Warner Brothers introduced the world to Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner in the late 1940s. That silly coyote has been trying to trap the road runner ever since. The comedic element to the cartoon is the ridiculous and backfiring methods the carnivore employs—ordering various items produced by the ACME Corporation—in his attempts to catch the elusive bird. Every episode ends with the Road Runner’s celebratory “Beep! Beep!” and skedaddle, while the coyote nurses his self-inflicted injuries awaiting their next chase.
Enter the Pharisees. By this point in the gospel we know that their every appearance is another attempt to trap Jesus. Having licked their wounds from previous encounters, they arrive with a new device to try. This attempt is political—they ask Jesus whether it is right to pay taxes to Rome. They may have been giddy that they’d finally sprung a perfect trap. If Warner Brothers produced this episode, the ACME anvil would be suspended above the ‘X’ that marks the ‘splat’.
If Jesus said ‘pay the tax’ he would alienate a huge majority of people as paying the hated tax to Rome symbolized submission. But if Jesus said ‘don’t pay the tax’ he would have been at odds with the laws of Rome, and he could be arrested for sedition. But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” It’s at this point in the cartoon, by the way, that Wile E. Coyote would look up to see the anvil overhead, then down to notice the X under his feet—then look at the camera and sigh, resigned to his fate. Once again, Jesus’ answer transcended the question. He held up a Roman coin. “Whose picture is this? And whose inscription?” he asked them. “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The Pharisees went away amazed. “Beep! Beep!”