Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees

In Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that some Pharisees propose a question in which they might trip up Jesus. If he answers their question in one way, he’d be exposed as a bad Jew, a fake. The other answer would portray him as subversive to the Roman authorities, an equally bad position.

Before the question is even put to Jesus, his questioner offers praise and flattery. Maybe, he thought, this crafty slight-of-hand would appeal to Jesus’ ego, thus disguising his malice. What a clever fellow this Pharisee must have been! The Pharisees’ underlying motive for rejecting Jesus was to protect the status quo and their personal positions of power. For his part, Jesus would not be knocked off his center by flattery or false admiration. Jesus knows who he is and where he is going.

The question at hand: "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" The Pharisees had their trap set. But we’re told that Jesus was onto their tricks. The Gospel uses the word "malice" with regard to the Pharisees. This meant they weren’t just toying with Jesus; they were being nasty. One way or another, they wanted to discredit Jesus and thus his message.

Jesus turns their silly argument inside out. First, he asks to see the coin. The Pharisee retrieves a coin from his purse. The disputed coin appearing in his possession would establish his hypocrisy. Then Jesus counters the Pharisees with his simple quip, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs God."

By refusing to take one side or the other, Jesus leaves the Pharisee speechless. In so doing, he stays on his message, that God the Father is love, and above all, in all, and over all.


Father William L’Heureux is pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Silver Creek, St. Rose of Lima Parish in Genoa and Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Krakow.

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