Sermon, Sunday October 22, 2018, St Petri
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 poll-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.
Living life costs. Doing all the things we do costs money. All the things we are blessed with and use are paid for by someone. There are “no free lunches”, as they say. Two things are certain in life: Death and taxes….. and maybe the Australian Cricket team winning a test against England this Summer – we hope!
Despite my Dad having a lot of trouble with the idea of paying taxes (and for him at times that’s all it was – an idea!), I have never had too much trouble paying taxes. The roads I drive on, the hospitals I receive treatment in, the schools I work in, the national parks I camp in are fine with me. They cost money too. Someone has to pay for them. I help pay for them as a citizen of this country – mostly gladly!
But this is easy compared to the taxes other people have to pay in other times and places. I have never lived in a community that is unjustly ruled by a brutal foreign power I did not vote for or know or like. Paying taxes there would be hard, especially if I knew that the system was endlessly corrupt, unjust and brutal if I did not bow down to it.
This was the lot of the Pharisees, Herodians and average person in Palestine in Jesus’ day. There was disagreement among God’s people of what to do about paying taxes in this kind of place. Some said yes (The Herodians) and some sad no (the Pharisees).
So, what about Jesus? What this troublesome Rabbi from the north think on the contentious matter. For the first time in living memory the arch-enemies combine for an agreed purpose. The Pharisees and Herodians combine to enact their plan which it to “Get Jesus”!
They think this way…. Maybe we can use this tricky issue of tax to Caesar to get him to sign his own death warrant in public. If we can checkmate him in public on this difficult issue which has instant mass interest (because everyone has to pay this tribute tax and hates it), that would play into our hands and the plan to get rid of him would be easier to enact…. But it is risky. The people love him. That is the reason for the shifty trap. They cannot be seen to be too over-the-top with Jesus.
It’s Tuesday of Holy Week – what will turn out to be the last week of Jesus earthly life. It is peak time in the city: Festival time: The whole country and world it there. His fall will be as good as any Facebook meltdown! It would go ‘viral’. The hunters circle in the crowded temple area….
Some background……. The coin is one cent or a penny (denarius). This coin was used to pay the “Tribute Tax”. The Tribute Tax is what everyone had to pay in homage to Rome. They paid it often. Everybody hated paying it, not because of the amount so much as to what it represented – bowing down to Caesar as God – spiritual and political selling out!
The image of Caesar Tiberius is on the coin. The inscription says, “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”. Paying this tax in tribute to Tiberius is going along with the claim that he is god.
The Pharisees believe handling and paying these coins is a breaking of the first commandment: Love the Lord with all you and don’t make other images of god to give your heart to. The Sadducees liked the temple and see it as part of the Lord’s future. They say, pay the tax for that reason…
So, what does Jesus do here? If Jesus says don’t pay the tax to Caesar, the people will be very pleased, but he would likely be immediately arrested and jailed or worse. If Jesus says, pay the tax to Caesar, he would alienate the very people he has come to serve and save. Many of them would stop listening to him.
What is he going to do? He is masterful under pressure! Some things to note: Jesus carries no coins. The Pharisees would not dare carry Roman coins into the sacred Temple area, and yet, when asked to produce a denarius by Jesus, one immediately appears. Someone has broken the first commandment right there right there in the holiest place on earth – the Temple!
Checkmate. Both groups now associated with the graven image for their joint evil intent. But Jesus remains his own man. They have broken the law. Jesus has not. They are all Caesar image tainted. He is not.
Astonishingly, Jesus just says, “Give back what is Caesar’s”, government, living in society, water supply, maintaining the city etc….. but “give back to God the things that are God’s “.
Well, what things are God’s? All things are God’s. “I believe that God has created me and ALL THAT EXISTS” (Small Catechism), we know from the Scriptures.
So, person of God, pay for what needs to be paid for. Use your resources to your own good, your family and the good of society. Pay school fees, tax, medical bills, donate to good causes, buy clothes, food and live.
But with your whole self and whole heart of thanks, give everything you have ever received or will receive; everything you own or will own, everything you are and will become to him in thankfulness and praise for his will above yours. He is your life. He gives you life by the cross of this Jesus who speaks this word.
The question on my mind is this: How do we give back to God what is God’s in this decision about whether or not we re-shape this lovely building?
Surely, we do exactly what Jesus said to do with both the money to Caesar and ourselves to him – give it, not keep it. Give it back. Not keep it to ourselves.
So, we give this building back the Lord from whence it came and say – “do with this place what you will, Lord Jesus”.
We pray, “We give this building back to you for your purposes today, Lord. It has always been yours as we are yours”.
From this truth today we listen, we talk, and we together decide, not from what “I want”, or “you want” or “we want” for all kinds of reasons. No, we give it back to the Lord today and say “Your kingdom come, your will be done, not mine, not ours, Lord Jesus, head of the church.
We are free to do this today. We are free in our baptism into Christ to agree or disagree, listen, talk, and decide because we are his spitting image.
Genesis 1:26 tells us who we are; we are people created in our kind and loving heavenly Father’s image.
And together the same: In 1 Peter 2: 4-5, together in our Baptism we are a living stones in his living spiritual house – a holy priesthood, no less, ordained for his kingdom work in his world.
If you were a coin then the image of God would be on you for the world to see.
And we are free to pay our tribute to Jesus today. He gets all the tribute we can muster. He paid for you in blood once and for all and he keeps his promises to complete his work with your life. You righty pay homage with everything you are and own every day, for all he has done and is doing for you out of sheer underserved love for you every day.
As we decide on whether or not the Lord is asking us to commit to redeveloping this building in the way suggested we simply pay right tribute to our Saviour and do what comes from the heart; we “give back to God’s what is God’s”.
Today he calls us to give our very selves to him, not merely plans and bricks and mortar.
We give this church building, these plans, these desires to reach this town, our kids, our grandkids, friends and strangers with the gospel of this Jesus.
He gave himself over to death not to condemn them but to love them and bring them home into his kingdom of life where they always belonged in the first place.
Whatever we do together in love today, we do it for the Lord’s glory and his kingdom’s coming.
The peace of God keep us this day. Amen.