October 18, 2020
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Lincoln
Rev. Megan Morrow, Assistant to the Bishop
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 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.” 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.
Boy, after a year of candidate debates and townhalls, after a week of Senate confirmation hearings, our Gospel lesson for today sounds pretty modern, doesn’t it? Let me pan the “camera” around the scene Matthew describes:
+ You’ve got Pharisees off somewhere plotting to entrap Jesus. These are the teachers of the religious law. They’re very invested in the current Temple system because they have a lot of power there, they support it and their roles are supported by its system.
The Pharisees see Jesus as a threat to that system and to them because he challenges them to be true to God and the spirit of the law whether it benefits them personally or not. Jesus indicates his authority comes from God, and not from the Temple or religious
+ You’ve also got the Herodians off somewhere. They are invested in Herod and the Roman governing occupation because they have a lot of power there, they support it, and their roles are supported by it. The Herodians see Jesus as a threat because he has many followers. He indicates he is not threatened by Herod or Rome, and his power comes from God and not the Emperor who is considered a god.
+ In this scene, you have some reps from the Pharisees and some reps from the Herodians asking Jesus questions in order to trip him up – sound familiar? You can almost see the debate stage and moderator, or the confirmation hearing set up. They smoothly ask, “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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
(You can almost see the camera move from those asking the questions to focus in on Jesus… time stands still and the rest of the scene freezes…what will he say?...
- If he says, yes, it’s lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, then the Herodians will nod approval and note that he is on their side, but the Pharisees will cry “Heretic! Idolator! He worships the god of Rome!”
- If he says, no, it’s not lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, then the Pharisees will nod approval and the Herodians will cry “Traitor! Radical! He’s inciting the crowds against the emperor!”
-…what will he say??)
The scene unfreezes…
+ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
(Let’s pause the DVR for a minute… why does Jesus call them hypocrites? Why does he ask for the coin used for the tax? Because as good Pharisees, they shouldn’t be carrying Roman coins with the head of Caesar and the inscription, ‘Son of god’, on them! The Temple system had a whole different set of money because there is only one God, and that God is NOT Caesar, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! So, by carrying the Roman coins, the Pharisees are showing their own hand-in-glove relationship with the Roman authorities and their own profiting from the systems in place. Their allegiance isn’t fully to God alone.)
Okay, now I’m pushing “play” on the DVR…
+ Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 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.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
As one of the commentators writing on this passage this week said, Jesus wins the award for best come-back.
On the surface, he satisfies both groups:
- the Herodians could take what he said as not opposing taxes or the Roman government or Caesar,
- and the Pharisees could take what he said as claiming that God is Lord of all because all things are God’s, even the Emperor.
However, there’s an even more challenging way to hear what Jesus is saying that challenges both the Herodians and the Pharisees, AND US:
- He is basically saying to give the coin to whoever’s image is on it. The coin has an image engraved on it, that signifies ownership and the system it belongs to. Governments and taxes have their place in human societies – roads, protection, organizing for goods and services. However, it’s just a dead image, not a living one.
- BUT, he’s also saying to give to God the things that have God’s image imbedded in them. All of Creation belongs to God and has God’s fingerprints on it! We humans are especially created in God’s image according to the scriptures! So, Jesus is challenging them to give themselves and all they have to God. Our ultimate allegiance is to God, above anything or anyone else. After all, what is the First Commandment that the Pharisees would have known so well?
I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
So, if God is God and Lord of all, including us, that can mean:
+ All that we are and all that we have is God’s because God has given us the talents and opportunities to have whatever we have: financially, relationally, with regard to health, work, home, family, possessions, everything.
A simple way to ponder what this means for yourself is to look at your calendar, your day-planner. Who do your days belong to?
A simple way to ponder what this means for yourself is to look at your financial statements. To whom and where do your dollars go?
What about your congregation? Who does your congregation’s days and priorities belong to? To whom and where do your dollars go and how do they or don’t they align with God’s priorities?
So, if God is God and Lord of all, including us, that can mean:
+ Everyone and all of Creation is God’s so we should care for each other and Creation as though we are caring for God’s own – because we are! What a privileged responsibility to care for one another and Creation!
Again, who is your time spent on? Who and what are your dollars spent on? How do you or don’t you care for yourself, others, and Creation?
What about your congregation?
So, if God is God and Lord of all, including us, that also can mean:
+ That God is above all systems of government and all leaders. It can mean we are to challenge and change the systems of government and leaders that are unjust according to God’s sense of justice.
We have the opportunity to hold government and leaders accountable by advocating, writing, speaking, and voting.
What is God’s sense of justice? Thank you for wrestling with that question here at OSLC in worship, studies, conversations and in your actions on behalf of others.
The Good News is also that God is God, for God is merciful and just, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God sent Jesus, God’s Living Word, into this broken world of Herodians and Pharisees, political parties and church denominations, human governments and broken systems full of injustice. Jesus isn’t a dead image on a coin, but a Living Word that speaks the love of God into brokenness
+ to turn us toward God for redemption, forgiveness and God’s vision of God’s kin-dom come of justice, love and mercy,
+ to challenge our priorities and turn us toward each other with the goal of understanding and care,
+ and to challenge injustice, bending us toward God’s justice.
The Living Word speaks forgiveness and healing in bread, fruit of the vine and Word to you this morning, feeding you with God’s love, grace and mercy, and unbinding the image of God in you from all that would destroy you.
May the Living Word guide and guard our hearts and minds, shaping our days and priorities, inspiring our living, giving and serving, and reminding us that human governments, leaders and coins come and go, but the Word of our God, the Living Word holds us fast and forever. Thanks be to God that God’s own image is written on our hearts and in Creation always.