One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, “Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?” He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” They discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.
So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
There’s so much dishonesty in this passage. Jesus asks the religious authorities what they thought of John’s baptism, whether it was of God or not. They made a quick calculation in their heads, that if they said “of God,” then they would indite themselves because they didn’t believe him, but if they say it was just from John, the people overhearing them would be upset.
It’s all calculation. But, they don’t figure in what they actually believe. They don’t come out and just speak the truth.
Later in the passage they are trying to trick Jesus by asking him about paying taxes to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Before they even get to the question, they begin with buttering him up: “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”
It’s all baloney. And, they knew it! Because right after this exchange, when they knew that they weren’t going to succeed in trapping him into making a gaffe, “they became silent.”
It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to not have the right answer. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” It’s ok to be wrong, and then have a change of heart later.
But, we need to be honest.
As Jesus says in another place, “The truth shall set you free.”