In today’s reading two groups that were normally opposed to each other come together in an effort to trap a poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus. The Pharisees I have talked often about.
They were the religious leaders of the day. They studied scripture, laws and customs and were quick to point out the transgressions of other with little awareness of their own sin.
The Herodians are presumed to be followers of Herod Antipas, the Roman leader. The Herodians were a political group, not a religious one. Acting as an extension of the Roman government.
Political and religious groups jockeying for position is as common today as it was in Christ’s day. Israel was essentially a colony of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people paid a tax to the Roman government that probably went to fund the Roman troops, guards and governor that occupied their country.
There was much bitterness over paying this. Life was hard. Large families in a rural society mean long hours of work on the farm, planting crops, tending livestock and praying for God’s provision.
How many of you hear today enjoy paying taxes? How many of you celebrate when you property tax comes due? Or when you buy a vehicle, only to be assessed several hundred dollars more….
I do not enjoy paying taxes, but it is the duty of a citizen of this country to help pay their share. I don’t build the roads and bridges I drive on, plow snow from them or home school my children.
The Pharisees and Herodians approach Christ, “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.
They flatter Christ and try to butter him up. Teacher we know that you are a good guy, you are the man, you don’t show favorites and are abundantly fair. They patronize him for what is coming next.
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” they ask him. Should we pay the Roman tax?
Keep in mind that we have religious leaders that oppose the Romans peacefully and an extension of the Roman government present. Here is how this is a trap.
If Christ says yes if it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor then he would be seen as sympathizing with the Romans and betraying his own Jewish people. A yes would give the Pharisees something to run with and undermine Christ’s credibility.
If he says no, it is not lawful to pay tax to the emperor then he could be accused of treason, sedition and be subject to the brutality that the Romans were famous for.
Further, endorsing the Herodian position, their tax and the currency used which hinted at the divinity of the Caesar. How is Christ to do……….We’ve all been in a position where our choice was the lesser of two evils.
What does Christ do……..How does he find a way out of this well played trap?
Christ did what he always does. He saw the condition of the hearts of the men that were questioning him. He knows the condition of the heart of each of us here today and all those that are not here.
He sees through the deceit, the trickery and the trap. “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites?’ he asks. Show me the coin used for the tax.
The group brought him a denarius. The denarius spoke of both Romans oppression and blasphemy. Farmer’s harvest were taxed, Jewish possessions were taxed. A denarius was the usual wage for a day’s worth of work.
“Whose head is this and whose title?” Christ asks. It is the emperor of course, the Caesar. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.”
Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God the things that belong to God. Fulfill your obligations as working law-abiding citizens to you government, whether you approve of it or not. Like it or not, it is the obligation and duty of every person.
Give to the government the things that bear the image of the government and its leaders and those that have done great things for their country, but give to God the things that bear the image of God.
So, where is the image of God found, who or what bears it…………Each of us do. Every human being in every corner of the world does. All of humankind was made in his image.
It is us, ourselves, our being, our lives that we are to give to God. But, do we do that? Do we trust in God enough to do that? Do we trust in God at all?
As Christians we have both earthly and heavenly responsibilities. We are responsible to support our families, to be good parents to our children. Nurturing and supporting them as them grow. To respect our parents and elders.
To work, pay our own way, our fair share. To be responsible stewards of all that God has given us. We have heavenly responsibilities as well. A level of detachment has to exist in our lives.
We have to be able to detach from busy lives and spend time with our God. We have to separate the wants of the flesh from the life of the spirit. The wants of the flesh are overwhelming and can only be tamed by the spirit.
You are all probably familiar with the scripture in Matthew 25 – I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me.
Heavenly responsibilities. Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God what belongs to God. Christ reasserts God’s ownership, sovereignty and rule. A God so powerful, yet peaceful, fierce, but loving.
So peaceful and loving that he allows each of us to choose what do to with him. We might complain how much tax we have to pay and how poorly those dollars are put to work sometime. Roads full of potholes, spending large amounts of money on things we don’t think are needed.
I’m sure you’ve thought about this……You know how lucky we are to live as freely as we do. There are people, many people, that live in danger for worshipping our God. Many people in this world don’t have the freedoms that we have.
Give to the emperor what bears his image and give to God what bears his. We have to find a balance between our obligations here on earth while fulfilling our obligations to God.
We are to be about the work of the church. When I say that I’m not talking about the self-preservation of the church. I’m talking about growing and investing in people. In relationships with one other, about being a deep group of people with purpose and vision.
Praying for guidance for this community of believers and how we can better reach people. Better serve people. Easy their suffering and bring them closer to God.
Give to the emperor, give to our government the things that belong to it and give to God the things that belong to God.
Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete