Year A Proper 24 Matthew 22 2011
What Is Caesar's and What Is God's?
A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?"
The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees are not being honest. They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don't want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus.
The Pharisees were so angry it blinded them. Think for a moment about the ironies here: We know, because we live on this side of the resurrection, that Jesus was God. They thought he was demonic, an agent of Satan. We know that Jesus is the King of kings. They thought he wanted to be the King of Israel. We know that he was the Son of God. They thought he was simply Joseph and Mary's son. We know that Jesus has influenced the world for 2000 years. They thought his influence would end at the cross.
It's a fascinating story. We look at the Pharisees and we shake our heads. How could they have been so wrong when the truth was standing right in front of them? I believe they were upset because Jesus held them accountable and exposed their hypocrisy. "Teacher, we know that you are sincere," they say to him, "and teach the way of God." Not for a moment did they believe in Jesus' sincerity. It was a set up. It was a way of putting him at ease before they stabbed him in the back. Tell us then, they continue, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?
I suppose we ought to be grateful to the Pharisees. In their question, which Jesus says was motivated by malice, they prompt one of the greatest of Jesus' teachings. It may not seem like much on the face of it, but the implications of this teaching have echoed through the centuries and they have shaped western societies. Jesus said, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Let us ask three questions this morning and find out why this little teaching has had such a great influence.
- What Is Caesar's?
- What Is God's?
- Which Will You Choose?
Get the Monkey off Your Back
W. H. Auden once described life as a very grand opera played by a tenth-rate touring company.
"What a senseless murder." Well, is there such a thing as a sensible murder?
Or "She didn't deserve this! She didn't deserve to die." Well, does anyone ever? Does anyone deserve to die?
Or someone was "at the wrong place at the wrong time." Well, no, they were at the right place at the right time. It's not the victim who is in the wrong. It's the shooter or the criminal who is in the wrong — doing the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The clumsy prose and clichéd phrases that pour from our mouths in the wake of tragedy or disaster is also evident when we hear about some horrible massacre, some vicious crime, some raging genocide. What do we say? "How inhuman!" And what do we call those who murder and maim? We call them "animals." We brand their behavior "brutish."
Talk about calcified cliches. Glance anywhere in human history. The vicious, vindictive vendetta is an all-to human trait, endlessly repeated across the globe, by all peoples, all cultures, all religions.
What this cliché of "inhuman" does reveal, however, is our very human conviction that we are called to be something more.
That there is a distinguishing "something" that separates human life from all other life.
That there is a higher standard we are called to and capable of, beyond that of mere genetic and cultural survival.
That there is something more we are urged to imitate and emulate.
That there are the actions and attitudes demanded of a being who has been created in the image of God:
"God created humankind ("adam") in his image. In the image of God he created them, male and female." (Genesis 1:27)
That image, that first incarnation, is the true face of humanity, of genuine humanness. It is when we fail and fall short of reflecting that divine image that we become something less than human...