Jesus went back to the temple on Tuesday, to continue his teaching. The gospel of Matthew says that sometime that day, “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.” The Pharisees sent their disciples rather than go themselves. Interestingly, the first thing the Pharisees’ “disciples” said to Jesus was, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are” (Matthew 22:15-16). I’ve always spent my time focused on the question those men asked. I never noticed what those “trainees” said to try to sound gracious…right before asking Jesus if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not. The Herodians were there as well. The Herodians were the Jewish people who supported the Roman government. No wonder the Pharisees told them to ask Jesus about “paying taxes!” The Pharisees were cowardly, interested in preserving their reputation and position. They must have decided it was best to send their disciples to face Jesus, just in case…
Imagine how Jesus felt to be complimented as “a man of integrity” and a teacher of “truth” by this group of men. Did their insincerity turn his stomach or grieve his heart? Maybe both. Matthew 22:18 says, “Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” The Pharisees and the men who did their “dirty work” didn’t understand that Jesus was God Incarnate. Jesus knew their motivations, and therefore saw the truth of the situation. Jesus would spend the rest of his day, answering the questions asked by this group, later on the Sadducees (the Jewish lawyers of the day), and then finally all of them put together. At the end of the day they all gathered around Jesus to ask him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus, who was so much more than just a man of integrity, answered those questions with God’s truth. But the leaders of the day didn’t want to know what was right, they wanted to be right. Jesus called them hypocrites, the word given to the stage actors of that day. He told these men what mattered most to God, but they didn’t care about knowing the right answer. They were angry Jesus got the answer right. They only acted like they loved God and loved others. If they cared about God’s greatest commandment, they wouldn’t have spent their time trying to trap his Son.
Every Christian has pharisee moments. There are times we “perform” our faith rather than live Christ’s example of integrity and truth. The cure for a hypocritical life is genuine love for God. God knows our hearts. When our love for God is our motivation, our love for others is genuine. Do you love God like you should? Easter week is a good time to consider that question.