John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Hustling God

In Matthew 22, three groups of people come to Jesus -- three really different groups with three radically different agendas: the Herodians, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. All of them are up to no good, having failed to recruit Jesus into endorsing their agenda, and they're all just trying to trap him into saying something incriminating. The Pharisees and the Herodians take the first crack at him. I imagine they spent hours coming up with the perfect question. No matter how Jesus answers, he'll have to choose one side over the other. Whichever group Jesus sides against will no doubt go and tattle to some authority or another. They've got him trapped. They've outfoxed him this time for sure!

"Hey, Jesus," they begin, "Is it acceptable to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

Some folks thought paying taxes to Caesar was like saying Caesar had become their Master instead of God. Others believed God was using Caesar to punish Israel, so refusing to pay would be like rejected the discipline of God. They've got him now!

Hey, Jesus, heads or tails? Either way, we've got you cornered!

But Jesus, like a good Jewish rabbi, responds to their question with another question: Whose picture is on the coin?

Just answer heads or tails!

Whose picture is that?

You're not playing along with our little game here!

I know.

Next, the Sadducees step up with a word problem for Jesus to solve. Since they didn't believe in the afterlife, they wanted to demonstrate how dumb Jesus is for telling people about the resurrection and what happens after you die. They have this scenario where a woman's husband dies. She remarries, but husband #2 dies as well. She goes through seven husbands before she dies. When she gets to heaven, whose wife will she be?

It's like a bad version of three-card monte or a shell game. See the little lady under the walnut shell? Round and round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows! Now, Jesus, which shell is she under?

Jesus, being the only one there who had actually been to heaven, knows something they don't know: There is no marriage in heaven.

Pick one, Jesus. Where is she?

There's no marriage in heaven.

Would you just pick one?

But there's no marriage in heaven.

Jesus! You're not playing the game right!

I know.

Finally, Pharisees try one more time. They send in a ringer, an expert in the Law to ask Jesus which of the 613 laws is the most important one. Rabbis had debated this for centuries, and there were arguments and counter-arguments which this expert had probably memorized and was prepared to recite. No matter which law Jesus picked, this guy was ready to tell Jesus why he had picked the wrong one.

Pick a card. Any card.

When someone says that, you know what's going to happen, right? You know they're going to make your card -- no matter which one you pick -- re-appear somehow. When they reach into their breast pocket and pull out an envelope, you're not surprised to see your card in there, are you? You may not understand how they did it, but you're not surprised that they do!

Jesus picks his card: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."

Then, just as the guy is taking a deep breath and preparing to launch into his explanation, Jesus picks a second card: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Pick a card. Any card.

I'll take this one and that one.

But you're only supposed to take one.

I'll take two instead.

But now you're ruined my whole trick.

I know.

The chapter ends with this punchline: "From that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions."

Here's the moral of this whole long story: Jesus is smarter than you think he is. He sees through all the games you try to play, all the times you try to sneak something past him, all the fast ones you try to pull. You can't snooker Jesus. You can't trick him. You can't pull the wool over his eyes. He wasn't born yesterday. He's God in a body, so how about we all just stop trying to hustle God?