Truth Cannot always Take Sides
“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Today’s gospel is an example of ‘either/or’ thinking; all or nothing thinking. When presented with two alternatives, most people think that by choosing one we have the total truth. We call this dualistic thinking. The dualistic mind knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. We do need the dualistic mind to function in practical life, however, and to do our work whatever that may be. It’s helpful and fully necessary as far as it goes, but it just doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues.
Jesus unmasks the question for what it is: an effort to trip him up rather than an inquiry proceeding from a sincere desire to know the truth. The Pharisees are religious conservatives who abide by the law and do not believe in cooperating with the Romans. Nor do they pay taxes to the Roman government. The Herodians totally compromise themselves with the Roman oppressors and pay all the taxes they want.
Jesus pleases and displeases both sides. He doesn’t answer their question. We can’t really be sure what he means. That leaves us in the middle, where we don’t like to be. It’s a place where we can’t be absolutely certain that we’re right, where the only righteousness is God; where we’re never sure that we are good, because only God is good. This is the rare space or place we call faith – where we have to live with a certain degree of darkness, anxiety and ambiguity. Many of us have not been taught how to live by faith. We’ve just been taught how to live with answers – so that we can prove that our group is right. When we grow in awareness that Christ lives in everyone and in all Creation, we come to realise that whatever choices we have to make, very few alternatives are mutually exclusive when we are listening and responding to Christ who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Adapted. Richard Rohr
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that belong to him and to God what belongs to God.”