The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24A (October 22, 2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]
1st Thessalonians 1:1-10
St. Matthew 22:15-22

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99

Prayer of the Day:
Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

St. Matthew 22:15-21, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.”

This weekend’s Gospel lesson sounds at first like a battle of wits. These educated religious officials (disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians) pose a theological puzzle to Jesus, and he responds with a witty answer. But as we look closely at this story we discover it is more than a gathering of religious professionals playing a trivia game. It has to do with life and faith and politics and rebellion and idolatry.

There were, in those days, three groups of Jewish believers. The Zealots were a revolutionary party, seeking freedom from Rome, and Jewish independence. The Herodians were committed to King Herod. Their fortunes were the result of loyalty to the Roman authorities. The Pharisees took the middle position. They were against both Roman rule and Jewish revolution. In today’s lesson the Pharisees, opposed to Jesus and seeking to entrap him, set up a situation where they think he’ll have to answer in a way that will alienate one or two of these groups.

Jesus refuses to take the bait and, in fact, responds in a way that entraps them. He asks them to show him the coin used for Roman taxes. Incredibly, they produce a denarius — a minted coin with the image of Caesar’s face on it — a coin that is not allowed in the Temple where Jesus is teaching. (Faithful Jews were expected to exchange their Roman money for Jewish money before entering the Temple. That’s why there were money changers at the door. If you remember, Jesus had something to say about that in Matthew 21:12-13…)

Minted coins may belong to Caesar, and if Caesar wants some of his coins back each year he has every right to expect that. But just as citizens of Rome are obliged to give Caesar what is rightfully due to him, citizens of God’s kingdom are obliged to be faithful with all that belongs to God. And as everyone in the room knows, this includes everything: our minted currency, our accumulated wealth, our time, our energy, our hopes, our dreams, our prayers, our desires…

“Give to God the things that are God’s.” Here we find a great stewardship text for this fall’s campaign: How much of what God has given us will we return in the form of our offering, to make sure the ministries of our congregation stay strong and vital? But faithful stewardship has to do with far more than currency; far more than how many dollars we’ll give to our church in a given year. How will we honor and acknowledge God with everything that we do? What sort of movies will we watch? What kinds of books and magazines will we read? What portion of our resources will we tie up in homes and automobiles and luxuries? How will we divide up our (increasingly crowded) schedules? It all belongs to God, it has been entrusted to us for a time, and faithfulness demands that we make use of it in a way that honors and respects the one who gave it to us in the first place.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.” With these words, Jesus challenges the Pharisees, and us, to be thoughtful and faithful about our entire lives.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are the Pharisees so bitterly opposed to Jesus?
  2. Why does Jesus call them hypocrites?
  3. What causes these questioners to respond with amazement?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What has God given to me that I value the most?
  2. How do I show, by the way I manage my life, that I am grateful to God?
  3. Is my generosity proportionate to my gratitude for how God has blessed me?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.