Hatred makes for interesting bed fellows. After a couple of days of being outsmarted by Jesus, the religious powers-that-be have retreated and regrouped. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the names have changed. The Chief Priests and the Elders, Jesus’ original sparring partners, have been replaced by the Pharisees and the Herodians. The first item of note is that while the Pharisees were around during the time of Jesus, their rise to power came well after his death as their system of personal piety and ethnic purity from outside influence came to prominence after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Another issue is that we have no historical record, outside of a few brief mentions in the Gospels of a group called the Herodians. Their name implies enough to give us some information about them, but we actually know almost nothing about them. Their name, rather obviously, comes from the name Herod, the puppet king of Israel of getting drunk and riled up by his step-daughter’s dancing and giving her JBap’s head on a platter fame. We can reasonably assume that they were pro-Hellenist Jews, strongly in favor of the Roman occupation and the support that Rome gave to the Temple system.
Here’s where things get interesting as the Pharisees, a group founded on a suspicion of outside influences on Judaism, team up with the Herodians, a group staunchly in favor of Rome’s influence in Jerusalem, in order to “entrap Jesus in what he said.” Both sides stand to lose from Jesus’ rise to power, and so they join forces to ask him yet another question for which there is no right answer. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” Either side can charge Jesus with a crime based on his answer. If he say “no” then the Herodians have him on treason against Rome. If he says “yes” then the Pharisees have him on collusion with Rome. Charges which both sides could levy on each other, but they’re not interested in that at this point.
As Holy Week ramps up, it seems as if everyone has a reason to see Jesus brought low, but Matthew continues to make it clear that it is Jesus and not these professional theologians who is in control. Trap after trick after loaded question, Jesus sees it coming and has the perfect answer. More on that tomorrow.