Summary: We may be citizens of a certian country or state, but our membership of the Kingdom of God is more important, and should take priority over all our other allegiances.
The two kingdoms - Matthew 22:15-22
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father
and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do you remember the Frank Sinatra song: ‘Strangers in the night’.
I can’t remember how the words go,
but it is about two people who pass each other and no longer relate to each other.
Christians are a bit like ‘strangers in the night’ with people around us;
in fact, we should be ‘strangers in the day’ also;
because on the basis of Jesus’ teaching about the coin,
while we are in the world, we are not of it;
physically we are here, but spiritually we belong somewhere else.
This is why we find so many things around us hard to put up with,
and why some people who know us, find US hard to put up with.
To put it bluntly, we are children of the Light,
and those who are not Christians are children of Darkness.
It is not me who is saying this, but Jesus in John’s Gospel chapter 3
and St Paul in Romans chapter 2 said the same.
This might sound arrogant,
but we are only in ‘the Light’ because we have accepted God’s invitation to come into it,
while those who are ‘in Darkness’ have decided that that is where they want to be.
The Gospel lesson is about the Pharisees plotting to entrap Jesus.
There was nothing new in this.
In Matthew’s Gospel we can see that there has been an ongoing battle
between the religious leaders of Israel and Jesus,
for example concerning Jesus’ authority
versus that of the appointed leaders of the Temple.
The Pharisees were really worried about the number of people who were following Jesus, and so they wanted to discredit Him before the people
in order to maintain their own status and power.
What is strange about this particular text,
is the fact that the Pharisees, who were supposed to be deeply pious and religious purists, were willing to team up with the Herodians,
who were partisans of the ruling Roman family.
They were a group of Jews who had compromised their faith and piety,
in order to win favours from the governing forces.
The Pharisees and the Herodians made strange partners
in their attempt to discredit Jesus, because they really despised each other,
but there is an unwritten law ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’
which means the enemies of Jesus were willing to work together
to put Jesus down.
They tried to trick Jesus through some sweet talking flattery,
then asked the question. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
This was a Catch 22 way of trying to get Jesus to say something that would incriminate himself.
If Jesus answered “No,” the Herodians, who enjoyed the benefits of Roman rule,
would report him to the authorities as a traitor or seditionist.
If Jesus answered “Yes,” the Pharisees would be able to discredit him among the people as a Roman sympathizer, a person unfaithful to the faith of Israel.
Jesus wasn’t daft, and this is why Jesus, as these two conflicting groups approached him,
referred to them as hypocrites.
Jesus knew that there had to be some devious intent
behind their teaming up to confront him.
But Jesus filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,
didn’t succumb to their ploy, their desire to entrap him.
Instead, Jesus asked to see the coin everyone had to use to pay their taxes.
It was a coin that bore the image of the Roman emperor,
and so Jesus asked, “Whose image is on the coin?”
Both groups answered, “The emperor.”
Jesus then replied, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s
and to God the things that are God’s.”
Matthew tells us that when they heard this, they were amazed,
and they left Jesus and went away; basically defeated.
Jesus’ answer enabled him to escape the trap
that the two extreme but opposing groups were trying to set for him.
It acknowledged to the Herodians that we do have obligations
to uphold to our worldly governments,
and it expressed to the Pharisees that we also have obligations
to uphold as citizens of God’s kingdom.
But more deeply than this, Jesus gave a teaching that left them with a challenge
that rings down through the centuries,
and affects us and our relationships with everyone we come across
in the course of our everyday lives, including family members, neighbours,
and people we work with.
Jesus is basically saying that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms.
The first part of his answer acknowledges the fact that we have a responsibility to uphold as citizens of the world,
and to the governing authorities of our Nation, our County and our local community.
Jesus is saying that we have an obligation to pay taxes to the government,