The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 24A (October 19, 2014)

Lessons:Isaiah 45:1-7 Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13] 1 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.

Jesus and Taxes

“Come on back this Wednesday, and we’ll focus on what Jesus thinks about taxes.” That was my announcement last Sunday. The obvious first reaction, during this heated political season, was to wonder if Jesus is for more taxes or fewer taxes; bigger government or smaller government. After all, the question posed to him in this middle section of Matthew 22 is: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Our Lord’s questioners, of course, are not interested in what he thinks about taxes. We’ve come to suspect this of them, and Matthew makes it clear in the verse that follows: “But Jesus, aware of their malice…” They haven’t come to learn about God at the feet of the Rabbi from Nazareth. They are more interested in seeing if they can present Jesus with a question that there is no way to answer; a question that will force him to incriminate himself.

Will he say Jewish believers ought to pay the Roman tax (a tax that pays for the Roman forces who have made life miserable for the Jews…)? Then he will clearly get himself in trouble with the faithful who have borne the burden of this tax. Will he say that Jewish believers are morally obligated to have nothing to do with this tax? If so, he will clearly get himself in trouble with the Roman authorities who have little patience with rebels. Either way, these Pharisees imagine, they have come up with a sure-fire way to take him down a notch or two.

We (like the Pharisees) might expect him to offer a clear-cut answer to their question; one that puts Roman taxation and Jewish faithfulness in a proper relationship, and provides a roadmap for Jewish believers to follow when their annual tax assessment arrives in the mail. (Wouldn’t that be handy for us as well, as we get ready to fill out and mail in our paper ballots this week?) But Jesus resists the temptation to provide tax advice, and continues to what he has always done: proclaim the Kingdom of God which is breaking into this world.

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 focus, our desire…

Give to God the things that are God’s. 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. How will we honor and acknowledge God with all that we do? What movies will we watch? What books and magazines will we read? What portion of our resources will we tie up in homes and automobiles? How will we divide up our (increasingly crowded) schedules? It all belongs to God, and we are to treat it as if it did.

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 trying to discredit Jesus?
  2. How does Jesus' answer prevent them from doing so?
  3. What do the others who are present experience that day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How do I balance the citizenships I have in my country and in God’s kingdom?
  2. When do my commitments and interests threaten to put my faith in second place?
  3. What must I do to keep my faith, and my relationship with God, central in my life?