Luke 20:20-26                “The Trap”


            If you have been watching the news this last week, you will have seen the story of the “Russian spy whale" in Norway. The fishermen there have decided to give this beautiful white beluga whale that has a Russian camera strapped to it the name “Vladimir.” The whale apparently is indeed a spy whale. It is very friendly. In fact the news reports tell us that it prefers humans to its own whale kind. The fishermen are of course feeding it and petting it. The funny thing about this beautiful beluga whale is that it has no idea that it is working for a corrupt dictator in Moscow! Yes, it has been trained to spy, but what should that mean to a whale? All it knows is that the eating is better over in Norway! It is my understanding that it is slowly swimming south to taste some Swedish cuisine.

            In our text for today, I have to point out that Jesus is not speaking to the priests and scribes as he was in the previous part of chapter 20. He is now dealing with hapless spies that have been paid to report back to the authorities. Please note the last line of our text: “And, they were silent." One should ask "What good then is a silent spy?" The priests might have just as well sent beluga whales to watch Jesus!

            This does raise the specter at least that these spies continued to follow Jesus–though not for money. Nobody should ever follow Jesus for money! The text does say that they were “amazed” by Jesus. I like to translate it as “wowed” by Jesus.  Obviously they were not “wowed” by the priests and scribes–though they did get money for their spying.


I have been spied upon in my life. As a boy when I crossed into communist East Germany, I was always followed. It became a game to figure out who my STASI handler was. When I took the trains through communist Yugoslavia there were armed guards in every coach watching too.

Come to think of it, I suppose all of us today have been spied upon whether we like to admit it or not. You see, today every time you go almost anywhere the security cameras will be watching you. Even in your own home, certain internet connected devices might be monitoring what you are doing. If you have an Alexa-type device that listens to your words, you might be surprised to discover that indeed things that you mention in passing at the dinner table such as “I might like to take a trip to Las Vegas” will be met on line with various travel deals to the city.

            I have heard the story of a woman who logged onto her computer and was offered a whole variety of coupons for shopping for baby items. She was not interested of course—that was until she ended up learning from her doctor that she was indeed pregnant. Somehow the algorithms knew she was with child even before she herself knew.

            In the old days, real people would have to spy on you. Today, everything you do on computer or on your phone, car, or television will be sent to a server somewhere to be compiled. Right now, some of your smart phones are transmitting the fact that you are in church to anybody and everybody. This is happening through GPS tracking services.


            All of this I bring up because in our scripture for today, we see that Jesus knows that he is being spied upon. We also know enough about quantum mechanics to know that even observing an action changes that action. I would like to point out that every time Jesus has to engage with these spies who are out to get him, he is not doing miracles of healing or sharing the good news with people who need to hear that message. The fact that he is being spied upon changes his actions.

            Really, Jesus is on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, he has hundreds of followers listening to him share the wonders of an incarnate God, yet he has to be distracted by these inane questions posed by spies who are out to entrap him. What a perfectly good waste of the Messiah. I think it is a shame that Jesus’ time on earth is wasted with this kind of nonsense. What we put onto Jesus sometimes is just total craziness. I mean really, you have the Son of God in front of you and all you can think to ask is a tax question? “Oh Lord, God of the Universe, Creator of All, should I file schedule A this year on my 1040?”

            The spies who are watching Jesus turn out to be regular decent mensch as well. They have a change of heart. In the end it says that they were “amazed” by Jesus. We do not know if they ever even report back to the authorities, but if they do all they could say is, “Jesus seems like he is an okay kind of guy.”

            I am going to say, that in our day and age with all of the ability of our digital-technical State to monitor everything we do, our lives depend ever more so on the basic decency of the strangers around us. Our basic decency as Christians matters more than ever. And, I want you to act in your lives as if when people are done meeting with you that they should also be “amazed” at your faith in Jesus Christ! They should think that God has sent them an angel. Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to the stranger, for by doing that some of entertained angels unawares.” Can we do that? Can we still amaze a world that has cameras on us 24/7?  I know we can! We have to be a witness to Christ always, because the cameras are always on us. I want those cameras to catch God’s angels working.


            This is how we witness therefore: We render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, but unto God that which belongs to God. How do we know the difference? It is easy: God does not break down. So, if something breaks down, then it is obviously of this world because of the second law of thermodynamics, also known as entropy. Everything in the universe is subject to entropy, except God!

            Hear these words from Ecclesiastes 12:7, “. . .the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” What is of this earth will one day return to this earth, but what is of God will rise again to be with God.

            We have our "Jesus in the Hood" ministry after worship today. I need to affirm for all of us that every single car in the parking lot today belongs to Caesar. We do not read in the bible how on the eight day of creation God invented the internal combustion engine. Cars belong to the rust and dust of the earth. Only the people inside belong to God. 


            What I find interesting too is that for some reason today we think that Caesar is supposed to render unto us. We are supposed to get something from Caesar. This is one of the greatest falsehoods of our era. It is the error of our era! We think, oh the world owes me. I have worked all my life, so I should be able to retire now. I have gone to the university and paid my student loans, so I should get a good job. I have only eaten organic food, so I should never get sick. I bought the most expensive car, so it should not break down already. Is it not amazing how we delude ourselves that “Caesar” is going to be there for us to help us?! Caesar does not even owe us a Caesar salad! That is also the biggest difference between Caesar and God. God only gives us blessings, and Caesar only ever takes from us. Caesar taxes us!

            Of course pay your taxes, and render unto Caesar because Caesar will only take it from you anyway if you don’t hand it over! Rome was a very vicious foreign power that had already killed tens of thousands of people and taken over the country of Israel at that time. Honestly, if you did not pay your taxes unto Caesar, the Roman army would come and take your house, your animal, and all of your food. Paying taxes to Rome was more like paying the mafia protection money! Perhaps your greatest safety was to have nothing in the first place. Give it all to Caesar and live, for he may take your very life otherwise!


            In contrast, God gives us life. God gives us every blessing. These are the things that are unbreakable and defy entropy: Love, grace, joy, peace, hope, and the basic human spirit made in the image of the Creator. That which is godly in us can never be broken. Those things that are of God in us will return to God. The coin belongs to Caesar, but out lives belong to God.