I am kind of obsessed with an English murder mystery series right now. The way the plot moves, new characters being introduced at key moments, veiled hints of potential motives, red herrings, and finally that scene where a simple slip of the tongue or subtle change in expression and — wham! — the truth is revealed and the guilty party is exposed for who they truly are. It’s the job of the lead detective (or in the case of the British, the Chief Inspector) to carefully maneuver the situation, often appearing naïve or even befuddled, tempting the guilty to let down his guard until his hand is exposed.
When I read the story in Matthew’s gospel about the Pharisees’ attempts to trick Jesus into incriminating himself and, therefore, sealing his fate, it seemed reminiscent of the techniques used in some of my favorite detective stories (re: Matthew 22: 15 – 22).
First they flatter him: “We know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is.” Then they ask a seemingly innocent question: “So, tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” To all who are listening, including Jesus, it’s clear that there is no good answer. One gets him in trouble with the Roman authorities — the other with the Jews. You can almost hear the groan from Jesus’ followers: “Busted!”
But, like any good mystery, not all the facts are in, and just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, the story line takes an unexpected turn. We all know that Jesus answers their question with another question and very cleverly avoids the “no-win” situation. But there is another twist here — a not-so-obvious, subtle request that forces the Jewish authorities to expose their own hypocrisy before he utters a single word. And it is here that the Pharisees, those fanatical, holier-than-thou “keepers of the law” are the ones who are “Busted!”
This Sunday, we’ll look at this story with fresh eyes. Come with an openness to examining your own life and the ways you live out your faith. We will look at themes such as living with integrity of heart and mind and living our lives as a faithful witness to God’s healing, redeeming, and restoring love. The story has a lot of interesting and subtle plot twists, with more than a few cleverly veiled messages for all of us. In the end, we’ll discover who really is the one “Busted!”
See you this Sunday in worship!