Confucius was hiking with his disciples to visit a majestic waterfall. Even before they arrived at the waterfall, they could sense the power of it from the distance, first the rumbling sound and then the breathtaking sight of a tall and wide waterfall. It may be comparable to Niagara Falls.
They could see the mist from the fall reaching miles away. As they approached the fall, they knew the powerful current would not allow even fish or turtles to survive. But suddenly, they saw a man dive into the water. Confucius thought he might have fallen accidentally into the water, so he asked his students to try to save him.
The man disappeared in the water and reappeared about a hundred feet away. He jumped back on the shore and sang aloud with joy as if he just had a great exercise. As he walked by, Confucius stopped him, saying,
“Gentleman, I thought you were a ghost because I didn’t think a man could swim under this waterfall. How did you do that?”
The man answered, “Oh, it was a piece of cake because I followed the current. As I jumped into the water, I sensed the spinning torrent pulling me down to the bottom of the river. I didn’t resist it. Instead, I went with the current, knowing it would turn the other way around when it reached the riverbed, pushing me back to the surface.”
Confucius asked, “How do you know the nature of the current? Can you teach us?”
The man said, “I grew up near this fall and have been playing and swimming under here since I was young. I discovered that, by resisting the current, I would run out of breath and strength to swim. It naturally takes me to the other side when I don’t manipulate the current. I can’t tell you more than that because I learned by experience.”
(End of the story.)
That is an allegory by Zhuangzi, depicting the core Taoist philosophy of “Do Nothing” (无为). It’s counter-intuitive to our overworked society. We believe we must strive and scrape to achieve success. So, the concept of “Do Nothing” is often misunderstood, ridiculed, and ignored by most people.
According to the story, “Doing nothing” doesn’t mean doing nothing at all, but it means not manipulating or disobeying the Tao. What is the Tao? (I mentioned it last week.) The Tao in Chinese means the Word, or the Logos, in Greek.
The Chinese translation of John’s Gospel says,
“In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God.” (Jn 1:1).
In verse 14, John said that Jesus is the Tao became flesh, or Jesus embodies of the Tao.
In the story above, “the current” symbolizes the Tao, the Word, or God. In the Bible, we notice that Jesus doesn’t go against the current but goes along with the current and accomplishes his mission on earth—to save humanity from sin.
Please note that by current, I am not talking about the popular trends of society, but God’s Current or God’s Word. It’s like surfing the wave, not the wave of the world, but of God. Jesus frequently mentions that everything he says or does is guided by God.
The only time he wanted to go against God’s current was when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to let him pass the bitter cup, meaning he would rather not go to the cross if it was God’s will, but he went to the cross with obedience.
Today, we will learn from Jesus how to obey the current of God and swim to the other side, accomplishing our mission and having a great deal of fun doing it. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 22:15-22. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 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.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. (Mt 22:15–22).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
This passage is the first of three debates between the religious leaders and Jesus. Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem for the last time before he was crucified. All these things took place during the Holy Week.
Previously, Jesus told them three parables, convicting them of spiritual bankruptcy, hypocrisy, and fruitlessness. Now, they came in three groups with three trick questions to debate, trap, frame, and endict Jesus. This passage covers the first debate. The passage begins like this.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 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. (Mt 22:15-16).
The Pharisees were the religious leaders, and the Herodians were the politicians. They usually didn’t get along because the Herodians supported the Roman government. Still, they banded together to trap Jesus with questions that could make him an enemy of either party.
They began by patronizing Jesus, saying that Jesus is sincere and teaches the way of God with truth and that he is fair to everyone. Jesus never falls for it. Whenever someone says he is a good teacher, he expects them to accept his teachings instead of just kissing up on him. One of his definitive teachings is that he is God or the Tao in flesh.
Even in today’s society, many people say Jesus is a good teacher, but they don’t believe that he is God. That’s an oxymoron. C. S. Lewis made this argument,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice … God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.” C.S. Lewis
In other words, you cannot treat Jesus as a great sage and not believe what he said. Since he said he is God, he is either God, a lunatic, or a liar. He doesn’t give us another option.
Those Pharisees were hypocrites because they said Jesus was a teacher of truth, but they didn’t believe the truth he taught that he is God. They pretended to be gentlemen but had a terrorist state of mind. They flattered Jesus to disarm him to speak his mind. Now, they launched their lethal question.
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Mt 22:17).
It’s a “gotcha” question. If Jesus says paying taxes to the Roman emperor is unlawful, the Horodians could arrest him for sedition. If Jesus says it is lawful to pay taxes, then the Pharisees could discredit him as a legitimate Jewish rabbi, far from a prophet or the Son of God. They trapped Jesus in a no-win situation.
By “lawful,” they mean according to the Levitical law or Mosaic law. Paying taxes to the Roman emperor could mean allegiance to Ceasar, which could be interpreted as violating the first two of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shall not have other gods beside me” and “Thou shall not worship idols.”
Taxation has been a sensitive issue for the Americans since the independence war against the British began with a taxation dispute. However, after the independence, we still have the obligation to pay taxes. Benjamin Franklin said there are only two things certain in life: taxes and death.
It was an even more sensitive issue to the first century Israel, and the Pharisees used it as an effective weapon to trap Jesus.
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? (Mt 22:18).
The word hypocrite came from the Greek word “hypokrites,” meaning “stage actor, pretender, dissembler.” In ancient Greek plays, a stage actor wore a mask to pretend to be someone else. The word hypocrite is used eighteen times in the Bible, and this is not the first time Jesus calls these religious leaders hypocrites.
So, Jesus is saying that these Pharisees pretended to compliment him as a great teacher, but in fact, they wanted to trap him to kill him. They were people wearing a mask. Then Jesus said,
“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.” (Mt 22:19–21a).
This conversation took place in the temple, where Roman money was not allowed because Caesar’s image or icon was on the coins. It violates the Second Commandment. It was also a symbol of Roman oppression.
However, by showing Jesus the coin when they were in the temple, Pharisees unconsciously exposed themselves as lawbreakers. Yet, they tried to trap Jesus with the law. Still, Jesus turned this into an opportunity to teach them.
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. (Mt 22:21b–22).
Jesus’ answer allows them to fulfill their civil law without violating the spiritual law. The government deserves our coins, but God deserves our hearts. This teaching is profound, and that’s why the Pharisees and Herodians were amazed. To say that Jesus was off the hook would be a too shallow interpretation.
We belong to God because we carry God’s image. Paying taxes to Ceasar doesn’t mean we worship Ceasar. We can use Jesus’ teaching to Peter about paying the temple tax in chapter 17 to interpret this passage at the level Jesus intended. He said,
“However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” (Mt 17:27).
Here, Jesus paid the tax with a coin from the fish’s mouth. The fish is the fruit of your labor, and the coin in its mouth is the extra. That means your taxes are from the excess; it doesn’t hurt your earnings. However, the key phrase is “so that we do not give offense to them.” In this context, Jesus does not think we are spiritually obligated to pay the tax, but resisting it is unnecessary because fulfilling God’s purpose is our priority.
Jesus’ priority is to save humanity from sin. He didn’t want to sweat the small stuff, especially when he could afford it. He is also teaching you not to sweat the small stuff. So, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt 22:21b). We only give our things to the government, but we give our being to God.
Zhuangzi told a story about a monkey keeper who gave the monkeys three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening. The monkeys protested, saying it was not fair. The keeper told them, “Okay, then I’ll give you four in the morning and three in the evening.” The monkeys jumped up and down, happy with the new arrangement.
The monkey keeper could have gotten stuck arguing with the monkeys and fighting with them about their unreasonable discontent. But he didn’t waste that energy. He patiently figured out what the monkeys were asking for and gave it to them to keep them happy. He fulfilled his mission without losing anything—a win-win solution.
That’s another example of doing nothing and getting everything done. Just as the swimmer in the previous story knows how to navigate the current, the monkey keeper knows how to navigate the monkeys’ needs.
Jesus turns every crisis into an opportunity. He turns the Pharisees’ trap into a teaching event. He even turns the cruelest crucifixion into salvation. He turns the crown of thorns into the crown of the king of the kingdom of heaven. How did he do that? By nagivating the current of God. He said,
The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. (Jn 14:10b–11).
God in him revealed to him what to say and do. He does nothing, but God does the job through him. His works prove it. Can we do what he does? Yes, we can because of what he said next,
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12).
Jesus does nothing and gets everything done by having God in him. You and I can, too, if we have God in us.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.