Summary: A look at what Jesus says about giving to Caesar and God to show that God wants everything.
Today is harvest. In front of me you see a selection of produce. It used to be traditional at harvest to bring in a sample of crops to church and then it was given away to those who needed it. Rather than do that anymore, we give the offering for the day to charity. Back in the OT people used to bring the first of there crops and offer them to God, which is I guess where this came from. But if we don’t give our crops to God anymore, as most of us don’t have them, although I guess David could give his first tomato to the church, that’d probably be enough for tomato sauce for one chip for the youth club, but if we don’t bring crops any more “What does God want from us?”
It’s a good question really, especially these days. People who don’t usually come to church, can ask the question, wondering what it is they’re letting themselves get in for. People who already come to church, who hear sermons and Bible studies week in and week out, sometimes get to the point where you just want it laid on the line. What does God want from me? Other people are most questioning, God has saved them, they’re grateful, God is moving in their lives, is speaking to them but they’re unsure of what to do next and so they too ask the question what does God want from me. Other’s ask it in a more philosophical sense, what claims does God make on my life and what does he have right to ask. In Star Trek V, Captain Kirk posed a similar question when confronting a alien being who was masquerading as God and wanted the Starship Enterprise. He asked, “What does God need with a Starship?” Perhaps we might be tempted to ask “What does god need with me?” But however we ask the question or whatever permutation we come up with, it remains a very good question. What does God want from us?
Many different people throw up different answers. For some, it’s too search inside yourself and find him. For many in my home country in Scotland it would seem to be, turn up at church twice a year for communion, don’t go out of your way to hurt somebody else and do a wee bit for charity. Other’s might be a wee bit more demanding and say turn up every week at church. Some might say, he demands 10% of your income and then debate whether this is before or after tax. The events of the past few years and the last few weeks, reminds us for some God requires them to strap explosives to themselves and blow people up. Although to be fair what the Muslim faith actual requires is not that heavy, abstain from a few things, pray at the appointed time and make a pilgrimage once in your life for those who are able. But what do we say as a Church, or more interestingly what did Jesus say, God wants from us?
Jesus answers the question in the story we read from the Bible earlier. It’s a rather odd little story, where the Pharisees and Herodians come up to Jesus and after some good old flattery ask him a question. “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar.” Now, what is at dispute here is not taxation policy. The Pharisees and Herodians were not really interested in what Jesus had to say about the issue. What they were interested in was trapping Jesus. This was a trick question, along the same lines as the more modern. “Have you stopped beating your wife?” If you answer no, then the response is “So you still beat her up”, while if the answer is yes, then the response is “Ah, so you admit to beating her up in the past.” This question was one like, although less joky because it’s not one that you can laugh off and point to the problem, because the issues concerned were very real.
Israel at the time, was under the control of the Romans. Now no-one likes an occupying power, especially one that was known to be brutal and kept a legion of troops near by to stomp on any trouble, but this was not just a question of political freedom, it was also a religious matter. The Jews believed that they were the chosen of God and they longed for the day when God would kick out the Romans and put his anointed king, the Messiah on the throne, while all the other nations in the world became subject to them.
So if Jesus says “yes, you should pay the tax” then he would alienate the crowd and set himself against them. How could he claim to speak for God, or claim to be the anointed king, the Messiah if he was for a Roman tax. It would give the Pharisees as easy way out to say, look this Jesus is no better than the collaborating tax collectors and sinners he hangs out with, we’re the ones that stand for real freedom from Rome and what God wants, not him. But on the other hand, if he actually says “no, don’t pay the tax” then they can report him to the Romans as a rebel and inciting revolt, both of which were capital crimes. Either way Jesus opposition to them was at an end, either because the people weren’t following him or because the Romans had executed him. It looked like a full proof plan, except of course they hadn’t counted on the brilliance of Jesus reply.