“Render Unto God” – Sermon on Oct 9, 2011

Oct 9, 2011
Scripture: Matthew 22: 15-22

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 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. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “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.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Sermon: Render Unto God
by Rev. Doreen Oughton

Has anyone ever tried to get you to spell “I cup?” … Have you ever tried to get someone else to spell it? In this story, some people who do not like Jesus, who want him to stop preaching and healing, who even want him to go to jail, are trying to get him to say something that will get him into trouble. They are acting like his friends, complimenting him, saying how good he is, but it is a trick question they are asking him. They think that whatever answer he gives, he is going to get into trouble. They think he will either get arrested by the Romans, or all the people who are following him and listening to him will turn against him.
This story takes place in the country of Israel, where the Jewish people, including Jesus and all his followers, are living, the land their ancestors settled. The Romans were from another country, a very powerful one, and they had taken over Israel and are making the Jewish people pay extra money to them. Most of the Jewish people were very upset about it, but they didn’t think they had any choice. They knew that if they didn’t pay the money, the taxes, they would be locked up in jail. But they were hoping that someday someone would come and rescue them from the Romans so they could be free to rule their own land, and not have to pay this money to foreign invaders. Some people thought that maybe Jesus was the one who would save them. Jesus talked about how God was the one people should listen to, and that’s the belief that the nation of Israel was founded on. Jesus healed people and taught about the kingdom of God coming right down to them. So a lot of the people following Jesus were waiting for him to make his move, to find a way to make the Romans leave and restore Israel to the Jewish people so they could have God as their ruler instead of the Roman king Caesar.
These people who were asking Jesus the question were all from Israel. The Herodians were people who were hired by the Romans to make sure the Jewish people obeyed all the Roman laws. Others were students of Jewish church leaders. They were very strict about their religion, and didn’t usually hang out with the Herodians. They didn’t like the Roman rulers and wanted them to leave, but they did not believe that Jesus was going to save them. They didn’t like what Jesus said because he criticized them and their ways a lot. So they joined up with people they didn’t really like just for the sake of getting rid of Jesus.
It didn’t work out the way that they planned. Jesus didn’t answer in either of the two ways they thought he would have to. He didn’t say, “Yes, it is right to pay the Roman taxes,” which would have really upset his followers, and he didn’t say, “No, it is not right to pay the taxes,” which probably would have gotten him arrested. And he didn’t say, “I don’t know” either. He gave an answer that would make people have to think for themselves about what they should pay to who. He pointed out that the image of the Roman king, Caesar, was on the coin, and said that people should give back to Caesar what belonged to Caesar. And then he said that people should give to God what is God’s. No wonder all the people asking him the question were stunned. They didn’t know what to make of it.
I’m not sure what to make of it myself. It leaves me with more questions than answers, which is exactly what I think Jesus wanted. He wanted everyone listening to him then, and everyone listening to him now thousands of years later, to ponder these questions and find answers deep in their hearts. Here are some of my questions:
− Caesar’s image makes it Caesar’s, do things with God’s image on them belong to God? Where do we see God’s image? The bible says that people were made in God’s image, so maybe Jesus is saying that the people belong to God, because they are in God’s image.
− If so, how do we give people to God? How do we give ourselves to God?
− What other things might belong to God? The bible says that God made everything in creation. If the earth and all creatures belong to God, do we have any responsibility for them? What would it mean to “give” these things back to God.
− In a way it is easy to owe money. We know how to pay it. How do we make payment on other things we might “owe?”
When I think about how my parents gave me life and took care of me all while I was growing up, I am grateful and know that I am indebted to them. Yet when I think about my children, I feel responsible toward them. I know it is my job to care for them and love them. I like their gratitude, make no mistake, but I just really want my investment in them to result in them being good people living fairly happy and useful lives. I think my parents see that I am living such a life, and hopefully feel repaid for all they did for me. So when I think of God’s love for me, maybe the best way to pay God back for giving me life and for all God’s gifts is to live a life that blesses others, to pay attention to what God wants for me in my life, and to be grateful. I think that was the main message Jesus wanted to bring us. And I truly believe that Jesus is one with God, especially in the way he loves all of us. May it be so.