Jesus has just cleansed the Temple. Now comes the challenge of authority. But in good rabbinic tradition, he answers the question with a question. The marvel of the interaction is the utter inability of the chief priests and scribes to see the hypocrisy of their position. But as in all these stories, we can never see ourselves as uninvolved bystanders. We, too, are so often in their position, blind, or at least inattentive, to the presence and work of God around us. So then comes yet another parable of vineyards, tenants, and a landlord. They, and everyone listening, know exactly what the parable is about.
The battle of wits – one of the Pharisees great games. But they picked the wrong fight. Their question, of course, was designed to be impossible to answer. If Jesus said ‘yes’ to paying taxes to Caesar, he clearly wasn’t the Messiah, as everyone knew the Messiah would come to restore Israel to its place of independence and glory by expelling the Romans, and his support would evaporate as the morning mist. If he said ‘no’, he would be guilty of inciting insurrection and imprisonment. His answer is literally stunning – they are silenced. But Jesus’ challenge remains to us.
Cuthbert at last lays down his shepherd’s crook and retreats to the solitary life on Farne that, again, isn’t quite so solitary as he would like. Monastic obedience, to those of us outside the ‘religious’ life, can appear restrictive and claustrophobic. But it is designed to overcome the stubborn wilfulness in each of us that is called ‘pride’ and ‘independence’. We tend to value our independence as our freedom. But the paradox is that freedom is not found in independence: it is found in service to the Creator, for only here, as we learn to love, can our beings truly flourish and become all that the Creator intended us to be. The hanging goose is merely the foil for the lesson.