Summary: 22nd Sunday after Pentecoast proper 24
22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 24) October 16, 2005 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have claimed us as your redeemed people, children of your heavenly kingdom. Yet we live in this world, as citizens of this world, with obligations to our nation and allegiances to family and other organizations to which we belong. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to prioritize our various commitments, that we might serve you above all else, as we live respectful lives here on earth. This we ask, in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning is one of those texts from Scripture that raises questions without any answers. As a matter of fact, the more that I studied this text, the more convinced I became that it leaves us to struggle with our own conscience, guided by God’s Spirit, to supply our own answers. So I invite you to struggle with me this morning, as we explore this text.
First, consider the strange circumstances in which this story unfolds. We are told that the Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus. That is not so strange. In these last few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, there has been this ongoing battle between the religious leaders of Israel and Jesus, concerning Jesus’ authority versus that of appointed leaders of the Temple. Apparently, the Pharisees were concerned about the masses that were following Jesus, and so they wanted to discredit him before the people.
But what is strange about this text, is the fact that the Pharisees, those deeply pious and religious purists, would team up with the Herodians. The Herodians, as their name implies, were partisans of the ruling Roman family. They were a group of Jews who had compromised their faith and piety, in order to win favors from the governing forces. Clearly, the Pharisees and the Herodians made strange partners in their attempt to discredit Jesus. They actually despised each other.
Then, after some sweet talking flattery, we come to the question. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If Jesus answered “No,” the Herodians, those 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 have ample fuel to discredit him among the people as a Roman sympathizer, a person unfaithful to the faith of Israel.
Perhaps, this is what prompted Jesus, as these two conflicting groups approached him, to refer to them as hypocrites. Jesus knew that there had to be some devious intent behind their teaming up to confront him. But Jesus didn’t succumb to their ploy, their desire to entrap him.
Instead, Jesus asked to see the coin used to pay the 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.” And Matthew tells us that when they heard this, they were amazed, and they left Jesus and went away.
Now that is a really cool answer. It enabled Jesus to escape the trap that these 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 have obligations to uphold as citizens of God’s kingdom.
But is it really an answer? Oh, Jesus gave a response that did more than merely foil their trick. Jesus gave a teaching that left them with a challenge that rings down through the centuries. In fact, Jesus’ response presents us with a far more difficult question?
If we think about Jesus’ answer, we must conclude that we, as Christians living on this earth, 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 State, our County and our community.
Jesus acknowledges that we have, not only an obligation to pay taxes to the government, for the various services and benefits that result from living under its ruling authority – we must acknowledge that his response goes further than simply paying taxes. Jesus said, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.
Those who first heard Jesus’ response, and those who hear it today, recognize that earthly governments ask their citizens for more than money. Governments also ask for allegiance. Governments have the right to establish laws and have the authority to enforce them. And in times of war, governments ask for military service, which may require the taking of other people’s lives or the sacrificing of one’s own.