The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Reflection The Pharisees and Herodians, the religious and political officials, see the world as either black or white. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Either you are with them or against them. They see no gray zone. They expect Jesus to play into their hand… do you pay heed to the emperor or to God?
This kind of thinking represents early stage development of human consciousness. When our children are young we firmly say “No, don’t touch” when they get near the kitchen stove. But as they grow beyond a pure black and white perspective we say, “Be careful when you are near the stove… then… we show them how to use the stove to cook safely.” This is how human consciousness evolves; from a simplistic, black or white, dualistic perspective to a more complex, integral way of thinking that recognizes there are ten thousand shades of grey between the absolutes of black or white.
Much of the political discourse today revolves around people who want to reduce complex issues that cross the spiritual, social and political realms to a decision between two falsely simple alternatives; liberty or common good, equality or privilege, limited government or government intervention, freedom or order, conservative or progressive. I believe we would do well to follow Jesus example and refuse to be entrapped between false alternatives. Jesus refuses to play the game of the standard bearers of his day. Instead, he leaps ahead of his time and expresses a more highly evolved level of human consciousness and refuses to be entrapped.
In his book “Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution” the attorney and acclaimed author Steve McIntosh writes, “The left-right conception of politics that dominates most political discourse in the developed world is woefully simplistic and generally inadequate as a model of the complex political dynamics of the 21st century. For example, we can see in history how the roles of liberal and conservative have actually reversed position several times (the Republicans were the progressives of the 19th century), and thus it is likely that some of those who now identify themselves as progressives may in the future find themselves defending the status quo… within each worldview’s agenda can be found those who emphasize freedom and those who emphasize order. This often results in activists of decidedly different overall political persuasions finding themselves in temporary alliances with “strange bedfellows.””*
Which points to today’s gospel text and the alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians intending to entrap Jesus. “Strange bedfellows,” the political and religious keepers of the status quo strain against the growing pains of the evolution of human consciousness. They do not want to change, to give up the sacred cows of their historical religious or political privilege. So what do they do? They conspire to discredit, silence and ultimately eliminate the messenger.
We know the story. The messenger is killed but the message persists. Traditionalistic world views strive to force dualistic choices upon complex issues; individual rights or interpersonal relationships, big government or small government, tradition or truth (did you know the antonym of tradition is truth?), right or wrong, Herod or God.
When we, like Jesus, refuse to live between false dichotomies, when we refuse to subscribe to the notice that things of God are in opposition to things of the world, suddenly we stretch to a higher level of integral consciousness. We begin to look at religion and politics through a finely nuanced lens that reveals ten-thousand shades of grey and changes how we live.
Before long we hear people describing us saying, “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.” Living in imitation of Jesus is a significant step in the evolution of our consciousness. Let us not be silenced and not afraid.
* McIntosh, Steve. Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution: How the Integral Worldview is Transforming Politics, Culture and Spirituality. Paragon House, 2007.
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