Proper 24, Year A October 16 2011 St. Paul's Church
Once again we meet Jesus today in the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem where he is parrying off challenges from the religious leaders who are in charge of the Temple They finally figure out how to get him in deep trouble
Sending a delegation, they flatter him, then pop the question:
Tell us, then what you think, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
It's a trap, of course.
If he says “no”, the Herodian party who are in close league with the Emperor will be able to charge him with sedition.
If he says “yes”, the Pharisee party will be able to accuse him of betraying the Jewish people by collaborating with Rome.
So Jesus' answer is deft.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.”
And here the hypocrisy of his interlocutors is put on full display.
“Whose image is on this coin?” he asks, “and whose title?”
There they are, bearing within the Temple precincts a graven image in contravention of the First Commandment against any graven images. Furthermore, the image of Tiberias Caesar on the coin bears an inscription on it that attributes divinity to the Emperor.
Jesus then utters his terse response:
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God.”
Tertullian, an early Christian theologian commenting on this text made this statement:
“Render to Caesar Caesar's image, which is on the coin, and to God God's image, which is on man”. (Idolatry, chapter 15)
As I see it, Caesar may have his coin with his image on it. It is the coin of his realm, and with it he provides aqueducts and roads and sanitation and the like.
We, however, are God's coin. God's image and likeness is stamped on us in Creation, as we know from reading our Bibles.
Furthermore, as the baptized we are signed with the water and the chrism as our name is pronounced:
“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own forever.”
When we confirm our baptismal vows we hear the bishop say “Defend, O Lord, your servant N. with your heavenly grace, that she may continue yours forever....”
At Eucharist we pray “sanctify us also, that we may faithfully receive this holy sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace.”
The Church's meaning is now and always has been and ever shall be clear. We belong to God, and to God alone. All other allegiances are subject to our allegiance to God. We set no preconditions, we hedge no bets.
Everything belongs to God. All our money and financial decisions. All our talent and capacity for creativity. All our decisions as they affect every other child of God near and far. So yes, all our political discourse and political decisions, as those decisions affect every other child of God near and far. There's no private realm for God and another realm for Caesar.
This is what makes living the Christian life so challenging and hard. It would be so much easier if God were some private idol. But the living and true God is no private idol, but the God upon whom I depend for every breath; the God whose central requirement is to put God first and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This is the God we confess in today's Psalm as “high above all peoples”, especially Caesars and Presidents and bankers and generals. “Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God”, we prayed, “and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One.”
That God alone is over all peoples is good news, for when the Caesars of this world find us no longer useful, they are done with us. The God who is over all people is, as Isaiah writes, the one who cannot forget us, just as a woman cannot forget her nursing child. “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15-16).
“Render to Caesar Caesar's image, which is on the coin, and to God God's image, which is on man”.
God's image is on us. We are the coin of the realm of God's eternal Dominion, and learning what this means takes a lifetime to figure out. I'm still figuring it out and will never be finished.
As part of our effort to figure this out together, you can help me as I continue to work this out in my own life and in what I teach and preach.
You were handed a piece of paper when you entered. I'd appreciate it if you answered the questions on it and gave it back to me so I can read it. I'll share your answers with the Adult Education Committee. Your answers will give me ideas for sermons. I'll be grateful for your help.
What do you think Jesus means? What things are Caesar's and what are God's?
How does our faith shape our economic decisions -- our buying, saving, giving, and the rest?
What one question about the relationship between faith and money would you most like to talk about at church?