Matt 22: 15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
This week we continue and complete the Lent series in Matthew on ‘giving in grace’. I joked at the beginning of this series that Lent was a time of ‘giving up’ – not, of course, ‘giving up’ in terms of being unable to continue but ‘giving’ to God (‘up’ in that sense). In this very challenging time of social distancing, with all its implications – including the closing of the church building and halls – it can be easy to very literally ‘give up’ the things that are vital for us as Christians to do. Many of these spiritual disciplines have been nurtured by habit and consistent practice over many years or by adopting the practice of our church community as we join. Practices such as Sunday church attendance, listening to sermons, corporate prayer and sharing in and receiving Holy Communion. It is vital for our spiritual health as individuals and as a church community, that we don’t simply give these up, but find ways to continue, to grow and strengthen ourselves and each other through God’s Word and very real presence WITH us by His Holy Spirit. In fact, because we often develop spiritual practises by habit or through our community, this forced distancing and church gathering closure will help us look carefully at the practises and worship that we have often taken for granted and appreciate and understand them better.
Today’s gospel isn’t a parable, unlike the others during this series, but an encounter Jesus had with two different groups of people who had joined together, as Matthew puts it, to plot ‘how to entangle him in his words’. The ask him a question ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?’ At this point you need to know two things about this unlikely grouping:
- The Herodians were supporters of King Herod, the puppet King under Rome, and would be very happy to report any incitement not to pay tax to Rome as rebellion incurring punishment
- The Pharisees were a very pious group of Jewish leaders, some of whom viewed any image on a coin (the Roman coin carried an image of Caesar) as blasphemy and deeply offensive as well as the political implications of declaring submission to the unpopular Roman occupation. Any suggestion of blasphemy would undermine his growing status among the community as a Holy teacher and Rabbi to be listened to (even if disliked by the leading council members).
Jesus’ answer is ‘subtle and brilliant’ Dr Jane Williams states: ‘it defuses a dangerous situation and makes a telling point against his opponents’. Jesus knew that this was a trap, and responds with a question in a classic rabbinic style, that turns the spotlight from him to their hearts. He asks them to look at the coin and tell them whose image it bears – this is a simple statement of authority. Whether they like it or not, Caesar’s image is on the coin, the Roman Empire rules over them at this time and it is a statement of the obvious that therefore taxes should be paid to Caesar. Jesus is affirming here too, with Paul later (Rom 13:1-6), the importance of paying taxes to, and obeying the ruling authorities (with an obvious exception of Tyranny). But he then declares that we should give to God what is God’s. The word use for ‘give’ here to both Caesar and God is used of the repayment of a debt and implies obligation (Williams, ibid.). The money ‘belongs’ to Caesar so he should get that back as he determines; we ‘belong’ to God and give our whole lives to God.
In Genesis, the author describes the creation of humankind like this:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:26-27
Whatever you make of the creation accounts (whether you hold to a literal 6-days or a more figurative one over a longer period), the point Gen 1 is making is clear – there is something unique about humanity – an authority over this world – which, Genesis insists comes from God alone (the image here not meaning that we ‘look’ like God but have his authority – and we owe that back to God in the same way as a coin get’s its worth from one whose image is on it).
What difference does that make today?
- Firstly, if we are to ‘give’ ourselves back to God this is about our whole life – no area of our life is exempt, including our money. As we have said in previous weeks giving a proportion of our money to God through the local church is a vital way of demonstrating our commitment to him through our church family. Money often reveals our priorities. Even in this time of isolation, this can still be possible – either through internet banking, using the parish giving scheme or saving money aside to bring into the church when we can gather together again.
- Secondly, though giving money through Church is one important aspect we often shy away from how we give up to God, it certainly isn’t the whole of it. As we adjust to what it means to meet as the church in a socially distant way and be church…
- there are many ways we can give ‘up’ to God –
- caring for each other by giving a call or video call to someone you know who is on their own or struggling,
- if you are fit and not self- isolating, perhaps even supporting the church or the wider community through volunteering in some way
- In the way you do your job, care for your family
- But importantly it is about how we give time to him predominantly in daily prayer and listening through his Word, praising him and giving thanks – the word worship in English is a contraction of an older word ‘Worth-ship’ which means attributing worth and honouring – quite literally giving God what is ‘His’ due – praise, time, talent, our jobs, our families, our hobbies, our friendships, our church, our traditions …. Our lives
- there are many ways we can give ‘up’ to God –
I encourage you to put some time aside each day to pray, not just for God to move and heal our city, nation and world of Coronavirus but also, to praise Him for who He is, His grace and love towards and His very presence with us.
Especially in this time of self-distancing, let’s spend time in our Father’s presence, worshipping Him
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.
I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.Stuart Townend Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music
In penitence and faith let us make our prayer to the Father and ask for his mercy and grace.For your holy people, that they may triumph over evil and grow in grace, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
For candidates for baptism and confirmation, that they may live by every word that proceeds from your mouth, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
For the leaders of the nations, that you will guide them in the ways of mercy and truth, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
For the needy, that they may not be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
For the sick in body, mind and spirit, that they may know your power to heal, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
For the poor in spirit, that they may inherit the kingdom of heaven and see you face to face, we pray to you, O Lord: You, O LORD, will watch over us
Let us commend the world, for which Christ suffered, to the mercy and protection of God. Open prayer may be offered and silence is kept.The Collect and Lord’s Prayer follow.
Gracious Father, you gave up your Son out of love for the world: lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion, that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood, Jesus Christ our Lord.