Matthew begins our lesson by spilling the beans of the plot all at once. Thanks to the internet meme—and those famous words uttered in Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi—I hear it in Admiral Ackbar’s voice. (He’s that amphibious salmon-colored character with a head that’s a cross between a squid and a catfish.) “It’s a trap!” he proclaims as the Rebellion fleet cruises in to take down the Empire’s second Death Star. And so it is with Jesus today. “The Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said,” Matthew writes before laying out the story, inviting us to watch over Jesus’ shoulder to see if the trap springs back on his questioners.
They begin by buttering him up. “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.” You can almost hear them licking their chops as they circle tighter and tighter. “So tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
It’s a trap!