It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody loves a tax demand – however much we may appreciate the benefits that our taxes fund. If we're rich enough, we move to an off shore haven, pay advisers handsomely to help us reduce our bill and would undoubtedly celebrate wildly if we could legitimately claim religious exemption from paying our dues. However I don’t think that the chief priests and Pharisees were really hoping for an official “get out clause” when they cornered Jesus in the Temple that day…
They had something quite different in mind.
Over a period of some weeks, Jesus had been preaching seditious stuff…We heard some in our gospel last week as Jesus talked about wedding guests who won’t accept their invitation, leaving the way clear for outsiders to replace them. He ended that story
with the portentous words “Many are called but few are chosen”.
Chosen…an essential element in the identity of the Jewish people.
They are God’s chosen…
But here, as in other places, Jesus has suggested that they might yet be superseded– that the line between insiders and outsiders, between chosen Jews and passed-over Gentiles might after all be rubbed out. Not something that the Jewish authorities would enjoy hearing. So they set out to make trouble, to win a debating point of their own.
“The Pharisees … plotted to entrap him.”
They weren’t just testing Jesus. On the contrary, they tried to trick, him by their question, first softening him up with a compliment "Teacher, we know that you are sincere.”
then moving in for the kill
“Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the
emperor or not?"
The problem was not only that the taxes were being paid to the Romans, the hated occupying forces, but that the coins with which they had to be paid bore an image of the head of the emperor, the emperor regarded as divine.
This broke the commandment not to make graven images – a fundamental of Jewish law.
So good Jews found themselves with a dilemma – should they obey Jewish law and bring down the wrath of Rome, or keep their heads down,obey Roman law, and thus flout the Torah
There was no easy answer – no way of squaring the circle.
Those who questioned Jesus knew exactly what they were doing . Whatever he said could be used against him, for the question would force him to upset either Jewish leaders as a collaborator, or Romans as a revolutionary.
However, in the event they weren’t quite as clever as they had imagined. When Jesus asked them to show him a coin, at least one of them was able to reach into his pockets and produce one…There, in good Jewish hands, was a graven image – and what’s more, that graven image of the Roman emperor had been brought into the Temple, the most sacred place in the Jewish world.
Cue some embarrassed Pharisees, flushing and shuffling their feet...discomforted just as they had hoped to discomfort Jesus.
Jesus could just have left it there – but he needed to remind them, remind us, of another important truth..
"Give Caesar the things that belong to him" says Jesus.
But then he goes on "and give to God the things that are God's".
Game, set and match to Jesus – in one simple clause.
The coin is the emperor's - it bears his image to state that very clearly. But it's not just the emperor's image that Jesus sees before him. He also sees something that bears the image of God.
"God created humankind in his image, in the image of God
he created them. Male and female he created them."
Whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we have done, we each reflect God in some way.
We heard that in our epistle too.
We bear God's image, just as much as the coin bore the image of Caesar.
Give to the emperor what bears his image, says Jesus, but give to God what is his, - nothing less than the whole of us, body mind and spirit.
The psalmist reminds us that the earth is the Lords and everything in it…but it suits us better to gloss over this.
We know that we literally owe God everything but we forget again and again.
We think of things as “ours” or “mine” and wonder how to increase our profits
We separate faith from work and play and sometimes from our brains as well, because logic and faith don’t always go hand in hand. We compartmentalise our time: time for working, time for eating, time for playing, time for family, time for exercise, time for God (about an hour on Sundays, on the whole).
We compartmentalise our money: money for housing, money for food, money for clothes, money for children, money for fun, money for God’s work.
But that’s not how it should be.
Everything – all that we have, all that we are, comes to us through God's generosity.
Made in God’s own image, we belong to the God who calls us by name, each and every day.
Give to God the things that are God's.