“Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions?” (Matthew 22:18)
Deflection and distraction are the oldest tricks in the book. Politicians learn this early on, or don’t survive long. Answer a question with a question, or use a question to change the subject. Ron Swanson’s brief but classic “Hostile Witness” scene in Parks and Recreation comes to mind.
But questions can also be used for entrapment. Lawyers are generally well-experienced in this.
Jesus faced questions in both categories. On one occasion, a Samaritan woman tried to ease the spotlight on her personal life by switching the conversation with Jesus to broader theological inquiries (John 4:16-20). And here in Matthew 22, Jesus faces some hostile leaders who are out to trap Him with a “no-win” question.
Jesus saw straight through it; and still does. There’s often something behind the question.
Douglas Moo once noted that “All theology is pastoral theology.” That is, the real reason for thinking anything about God is that we might live differently and better mediate the Presence of God to each other and the world. Truly good theology opens our ears, not closes our minds. It softens the heart, not hardens it. It draws us together, not divides us. If it fails on these fronts, it fails almost entirely.
However, over the years I’ve discovered that many people assume that theology is primarily intellectual, not pastoral. They ask questions endlessly and thrive on the mental gymnastics. They enjoy the delight of debating and the thrill of winning an argument. The intellectual stimulation pumps their adrenaline.
But have we gotten things turned around? Theology does not serve principally as an intellectual construct, but as a pastoral pathway. We examine and explore the person and work of God first and foremost so that we might live differently; fully and abundantly.
“Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions?”
It’s entirely possible to hide behind intellectual curtains. It’s certainly safer to ponder the substance of the Trinity and the subtleties of Reformed theology than to have someone call out our greed or immorality.
None of us are out to entrap Jesus. But might our questions and theological debates help us avoid Him, at times? I wonder if our nit-picking conversations and vigorous apologetics lead us to Christ-like and Christ-inspired change? Or might this be how we intuitively guard ourselves from spiritual vulnerability?
This self-protection, ironically, may become the very thing that diminishes us.
Here’s an idea: What if we gave simple thought to the deepest and richest truths about God, and sought today to live in such a way as to honor those truths (and Him)? No trick questions today; just life-shaping and life-giving pastoral theology.