Render unto God...what is God's
Let us pray … We are sent; In the name of God, the God of justice & truth; In the name of Jesus, Victim of injustice; In the name of the Holy Spirit, Discerner of the truth; To act like Jesus did. Give us wisdom to discern Your call in the choices that confront us, & give us strength to walk the path with integrity. We ask this in the name of Jesus, AMEN
Hugh Latimer, who became Bishop of Worcester, was a vigorous and colourful preacher, and was one of 12 licensed to preach anywhere in England.
His preaching drew attention to social injustices and corruption.
Nicolas Ridley, who became Bishop of London, (in whom Ridley College here in St Catharines is named after) achieved many reforms in the church,
One example is the use of a communion table rather than an altar.
He, also preached against the social injustices of the time,
Both were excommunicated under the authority of Queen Mary, and burned at the stake.
Latimer’s words at the end to Ridley have become renowned:
"We shall this day, light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out."
Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley - Martyred this day October 16 in 1555
The Gospel story today is very familiar to many and the final line is often quoted to various purposes and agendas
“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This has been used stewardship drives – at tax time - and even when considering whether to pay such things as an annoying parking fine
Is this a statement for divided loyalties – earthly and Heavenly
In it we are challenged with the notion claimed in the New Testament – Are we a people with dual citizenship as St. Paul would site in Ephesians and Philippians –
“With minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven”
What is Jesus trying reveal to the people then… and to us now?
As a Diamond’s beauty is enhanced by it’s setting, there are scriptural contextual implications worthy of a closer look:
Firstly, the gospel story might be familiar because it is in Matthew, Mark and Luke and it appears in the same setting in each:
It is after Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – Palm Sunday – and after Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple
Here, in the temple, the taxation incident does not stand alone – it is one of five confrontations concerning the authority of Jesus.
The surrounding controversies are: over the acceptance of John the Baptist - over marriage - over the resurrection of the dead - over claims of messiahship - and over the great commandment,
The last is so familiar as it has often been made part of our liturgy, as part of the general confession
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
This context is important, so keep the concept of the great commandment in the back of your mind
Here Jesus, in Roman occupied land, Israel - the holy land,
Specifically the holy city of Jerusalem, in the midst of the holiest part of that city - the temple, prior to Passover, the holiest of all festivals,
Jesus is addressing the questions and conflicts of some of the religious elite.
You may be interested to know that Jews were the only race/religion that were allowed to continue their worship under Roman rule and in fact it was actually part of Roman law for them to do so
So the reading starts off with the Pharisees sending their disciples to Jesus, along with the Herodians… - Herodians – wait who are they?
It is important not to fall into the a common misunderstanding which has happened over history and consider all Jews as Pharisees
There were many religious groups among the Jews – Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, high priests, Herodians and lawyers or doctors of the law – all are described in the New Testament
Now the Herodians – are Jewish political party who sympathized with the various Herod rulers in their general policy of government.
They were, united with the Sadducees in holding the duty of submission to Rome.
The Pharisees on the other hand – precursor to modern day Jews, were a nationalistic group
These two groups that would normally be enemies, one in alliance with Rome and the other completely opposed to Roman occupation,
Yet they are joined forces to trap Jesus
They start out by smoozing Jesus – using ‘over the top’ forms of compliments, their address to Jesus is dripping with irony – they call Him master or teacher,
They state that He is one in line with the truth, and then… they pose their trick question
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
This type of question is very familiar to me, as a parent
Sometimes I am on the receiving end, and sometime I try it out on the kids
For example I have been asked “Are we going to have wings with our Pizza or just Pizza” when we weren’t planning on having either
I, also, have tried to employ this doubly beneficial questioning, with things like
“Are you going to clean your room or wash the dishes?”
Jesus, sees right through their ploy – and says
“Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.”
As an aside, you might be interested to know that Jesus taught more about money than any other subject.
Twenty-seven of Jesus' 43 parables, that's 62%, have to do with money and possessions.
One of every ten verses in the gospels deals with money.
The Bible includes 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 on faith,
But more than 2000 on money
And this is only one of two specific mention of tax – there is the Temple tax discussion of Jesus and Peter in Matthew 17 a few chapters earlier
And you will notice in that, there is no question by Jesus that they will pay the tax
Out of respect Jesus’ response is …“so that we do not give offense to them” –
And so, where some might view the gospel today as a question about submission to worldly authorities
I would suggest that Jesus was more of a realist than that
Certainly it was about the question of submission to worldly authorities
But let’s fool ourselves with rose colored glasses - that Jesus went around floating on a cloud and the realities of the world never affected Him
Money was very much is a part of Jesus’ world – and any teaching without it is an incomplete understanding
Back to today’s gospel…The coin that they reveal, a denarius is a silver coin,
A day’s wages for an ordinary laborer
It would have had the Image of and the inscription: "Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest."
To a nationalistic Jew who confessed a radical monotheism, such as the Pharisees, this graven image would have been religiously offensive and politically humiliating
Graven image would be seen as idol-atrous
This was not just legal tender but also pieces of propaganda
So the question is there - Pay or not…
The question brought with it some deep implications – it was more then the trick double purpose questions of the Tinker family
To pay meant bowing to Caesar, accepting the superscription and honouring the graven image and there are the added issues of the cult of the emperor
Not paying was being tricked into the lure of political opposition against Rome - and the Herodians were well connected (probably why the Pharisees invited them along)
Collaborator …Subversive….these appear to be Jesus’ choices…
So How does Jesus respond… well with the wisdom of God
First by answering a question with a question and then a powerful statement
“Whose is this image and superscription? They say to him, Caesar's. Then said he to them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”(Matthew 22:21-22)
The Pharisaic disciples, armed with the trick question of their Rabbis (teachers) and the enforcement of the Herodians …are matched with a confounder of Rabbis, the Master of all Rabbis
You see, they know the Holy Torah, they know immediately with the use of the word “image” just what Jesus has done
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
And I like how Luke puts it in his account “And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveling at his answer they were silent.”
Then as now, we are made in the image and likeness of God.
So because you are a human being, you are God's tribute money
We are render or return to Caesar what is Caesar and everything that is created in God’s image, we are to give to God
One commentary – sights the response as the “great commandment” - or at least as foreshadowing of what Jesus is to say only a few verses later
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37)
The question they asked Jesus, is a moral question with a political agenda:
But Jesus turns it into a theological question (question about God) – and about our very existence – the reason for our creation
Jesus once again as a master of the cultural game of challenge and His response applies then as it does today
The question as you can see has nothing to due with tax time or taxes really
It is about "profoundly radical nature of Christianity,"…
Now we likely won’t be called upon to act as Latimer and Ridley did, but we can be inspired by them and other saints before us…and we are assured by Jesus that we are called to live as they did
Since the hidden agenda is really a question of authority – ultimate authority
And to what… will have authority in your life,
may I suggest that you Repay God with nothing less then that which belongs to God – that which is called the Christian life…
As we continue in this season of Harvest with the reminders of God’s great giving all around us – in a land truly blessed by God overflowing provision of mercy and grace
Remember that you are uniting with God, a real God that lived as we live and face the realities of life and money as we do
Remember that you are also united with the entire Christian church around the world and over history, with Latimer and Ridley.
United in participation and remembrance of God’s gift, His one and only Son and also with the greatest sacrifice
Consider what your response will be
And Give to God what is God’s - AMEN