Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
~ Matthew 22:15
Meet Admiral Ackbar.
The Admiral is a minor character from a Star Wars film. Although he presumably has a life beyond the few scenes in which he appears, he is remembered for one thing and one thing only.
He proclaims, with a glassy-eyed expression of dazed astonishment, “It’s a trap!”
Admiral Ackbar, the ever-useful trap detector, was absent in the days of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, the Lord was shrewd enough to detect a trap without the advice of Star Wars characters.
Quite a number of people disliked Jesus, you see. Two religious groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees, hated the way his teachings upset the balance of things. They wanted him gone—disgraced—dead. These religious groups resorted to all kinds of underhanded traps to bring down the controversial upstart called Jesus Christ.
I find it hilarious, and extremely impressive, how the Lord Jesus dodged every trap with bravado and brilliance.
The Pharisees watched Jesus closely on the Sabbath, the divinely-ordained day of rest, to see whether he would heal a crippled man and thereby dishonor the day by “working.” Jesus didn’t heal anyone secretly. He was way too cool for that. Instead, he had the crippled man stand up in front of everyone and healed him in the most public way possible, pointing out that doing good on the Sabbath is more important than merely following regulations. (See Luke 6:6-10.)
It happened again and again. Even without Admiral Ackbar’s insight, the Lord Jesus never fell for a trap.
The priests demanded to know who gave Jesus his authority. If he claimed it came from God, they could accuse him of blasphemy. If he gave some other answer, or simply refused to reply, they could claim his teachings carried no weight.
Jesus answered this trick question with one of his own: “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
The priests were baffled: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
They couldn’t answer his question, so Jesus declined to answer theirs. (See Matthew 21:23-27.)
“Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” demanded the Pharisees. If he answered “Yes,” they could accuse him of being a sellout to the Roman authorities. If he answered “No,” they could get him into trouble with those authorities.
He pointed out that Roman coins came from Caesar in the first place and said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”—an answer with which neither Romans nor Jews could find fault. (See Matthew 22:15-22.)
The Sadducees added a trap of their own, but Jesus kept his cool.
If a woman is married more than once, they asked, whose wife will she be in the afterlife? By this question, the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in life after death) meant to discredit Jesus and his teachings.
Jesus’ answer? There is no marriage in the afterlife. Take that, Sadducees! (See Matthew 22:23-33.)
One trap stands out among the others. It was a matter of life or death. A woman had been caught in an affair. According to Old Testament laws, she deserved to die. However, in Jesus’ day, Jews couldn’t sentence anyone to death without consent from the Roman authorities. (This is why Jesus was taken to Pilate, a Roman official, to be condemned to be executed after the Jews had already declared him worthy of death.)
If Jesus said the woman should die, he would break Roman law. If he said the woman should live, he would break divine law. There was no way out. It was a trap even Admiral Ackbar could not avoid.
Go ahead, said Jesus. Execute the woman according to Jewish law—but let someone who hasn’t sinned begin the execution.
With infinite calm, Jesus called their bluff. They could threaten to kill the woman—perhaps even watch her die—but not one of them could carry out the execution with a clean conscience. One by one, they slipped away. (See John 8:3-11.)
“Woman, where are they?” asked Jesus at last. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she replied, perhaps trembling in fear and awe.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” declared Jesus. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I find it fascinating that Jesus gave tricky answers only to trick questions. When a Pharisee finally asked him a fair question, Jesus’ answer was honest and straightforward.
What, asked the Pharisee, is the greatest commandment in God’s law?
Love God and love others, answered Jesus.
That, dear readers, is not a trap.
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