Summary: A brilliant and awesome response - and an awesome challenge to us today
Story: A man came to an Anglican Church and asked to see the Vicar.
“Vicar,” he said, “My dog died and I would like a Christian burial for him.”
The Vicar said, “I’m sorry to hear about your dog, but we Anglicans don’t do funerals for dogs. You might try the Baptist church down the street. Baptists will do most anything.”
The man turned sadly and said, “I’m sorry you won’t do my dog’s funeral, but I understand. I’ll try the Baptist church.
But would you tell me how much would it be appropriate give the Baptist Church as a memorial if they do the funeral?
I was thinking of a gift of £10,000. Do you think that is enough?
“Wait a minute,” the Vicar said. “You didn’t tell me that your dog was Anglican…”
Somehow when people of faith get together, the subject of money comes up
And this morning’s Gospel reading is no exception.
And I’d like to look at just one verse this morning.
The verse where Jesus said:
“Render unto Caesar’s the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are of God” (Mt. 22:21)
On the face of it, it seems a simple story, but there is a lot of skulduggery in the background.
Firstly, look at the two parties who opposed Jesus on this occasion: the Pharisees and the Herodians.
The subtlety of the situation has been lost to us over the centuries.
In any other situation, these two groups wouldn’t have passed the time of day with each other.
The Pharisees were “devout” Jews. They were sworn enemies of the Romans and vigorously opposed Roman rule. And they stood against paying taxes to Caesar.
The Herodians, on the other hand, were the party of that Roman stooge, Herod.
They were the wealthy and privileged class who gladly collaborated with the enemy - helping them rule the Jews - in exchange for status and power in society.
So they would have no problems in paying taxes to Caesar!!
The adage: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” was certainly true that day.
The enemies of Rome and friends of Rome were united in their opposition to Jesus.
And so they put the “Catch 22” question to Jesus
“Is it lawful to give a poll tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17 NASB)
At first blush it looks quite an innocent question.
If you asked me today if we should pay council taxes or not – I wouldn’t have any problems giving you an answer!!!
But if Jesus said “Yes” or “No” he was in trouble.
Let’s look at the background:
The tax that they are referring was the “poll tax” – and we know how popular “poll taxes “ can be – even in recent history.
You may recall that the introduction of the “poll tax” was the downfall of Margaret Thatcher!!
The first Century “poll tax” was payable directly to Caesar. It was one denarius - about one day’s wage.
Of all the taxes of the day, this “poll tax” was most problematic for the Jews.
The “poll tax” of all the taxes was uniquely required in Roman currency – with coins that bore the image of Caesar.
The coin was particularly objectionable to the pious Jews because it bore the “graven image” of Caesar, and an inscription describing him as “son of a god”. So in effect contravening the First of the Ten Commandments. (Matthew - R.T. France p.314-315).
In contrast, for everyday commerce, special copper coins were used, without these features.
So the objectionable coinage was only used to pay the “poll tax”.
So Jesus had a real dilemma.
1. If he said “yes”
Jesus had a great following among pious Jews – Jews to whom the poll tax was particularly offensive.
So if Jesus said: “Yes, it is fine to pay the tax to Caesar”, he risked losing his popular power base.
2. If he said “no”
If he were to answer, “No, you should not pay Caesar anything”, the Herodians would have had him up on a charge of sedition and would have had little problem persuading the Romans to take Jesus out of circulation.
3. So what did Jesus do?
He asked for a coin, but not just any old coin. He asked for the coin used to pay the tax.
Immediately, someone reached into his pocket and pulls a denarius out.
(And if that person had taken the very popular Tyrian Shekel out (popular because it had more silver in it that the normal currency) and given it to Jesus, it would have been even worse as it bore the picture of the Tyrian god Ba’al!)
Jesus took it in his hand and looked at it – with the Roman emperor’s image on it and said: “Render unto Caesar’s the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are of God” (Mt. 22:21)