Monday, October 20, 2008

Matt.22.15-22; October 19, 2008, Pentecost 23

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, there it is, isn’t it? A text about politics. And very fitting so close to the election too. I struggled a lot about which text to preach today. And frankly, I just didn’t have the guts not to use this one. You’d all go home wondering what I would have said. So here we are, contemplating this text. But, if you’re expecting me to tell you who to vote for in a few weeks you’re going to be disappointed. I will tell you that there are some issues you should deeply consider. I for one, would find it very difficult to vote for any candidate who isn’t pro-life. It says something to me about the basic character of a person when they take a stand for protecting the rights of those who are the most helpless among us. But, this text really doesn’t talk about that.

At first look it looks like it talks about taxes, more specifically, paying taxes. The question you all want to know is, “Does God require us to pay taxes?” Actually, what you are looking for is a good reason NOT to pay them. Well, truthfully, I’m looking for a good reason NOT to pay taxes. But actually, this text isn’t really so much about that either.

You see, these guys who ask Jesus this question have thought it out ahead of time. They’ve set up the question very carefully. Note the word at the beginning. They “went and plotted how to entangle Jesus.” The Lutheran Hour preacher this morning said they were out to nail Jesus against the wall. The two groups of folks involved here are the Pharisees and the Herodians. Now these guys aren’t allies in any sense of the word. In fact, they are normally at odds. But they’ve come together to oppose Jesus. The enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of thing. The Pharisees hate Jesus because he’s got the people behind him. The Herodians hate Jesus because the Herods hold power as long as things run smoothly. Jesus threatens them both. So they plotted this question. To set up the context, it seems that there was a controversy about some of the coins that Pilate had made. It had an image of Caesar on it and an inscription that implied that he was a living god. This was very offensive to Jews and Pilate was already in hot water with Rome over some other issues. He made a new coin that was less objectionable. So this question is intended to entangle Jesus in a current controversy. The question? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Is designed to be a got-ya no matter how it is answered. It is a question to nail Jesus to the wall. If Jesus says, “Pay taxes.” He’s promoting the paying of taxes to the occupying force. This stand isn’t going to be very popular with the masses. If he says, “don’t pay taxes.” The Roman government is going to be very interested in him. But Jesus answers the question and gets out of the trap at the same time. He asks for a coin. “Whose image is on it? Whose name is on it?” “Caesar’s” is the answer. Then Jesus says something that is a very deep and important answer. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus enemies “marvel.” I think you can say they were disappointed. Jesus has wiggled out of they’re trap. They have to find another way to get him. Actually, trying to nail Jesus to the wall is about like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

So what about this response, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”?

Actually, Jesus response nails us to the wall. Now look at the back of the LWML insert. This is my favorite cartoon. It’s called Agnus Day. It’s a comic strip written by a Lutheran pastor and it goes along with the regular Sunday readings. (You can read it yourself on These two sheep are named Rick and Ted. Rick is the sheep with the coffee. He always has coffee. He always has answers. Ted is the guy with all the questions. image

Well, it is true isn’t it? Human beings were made in the image of God. If we are to give to God what is God’s then we should give ourselves to him, shouldn’t we? I like Ted’s last statement. Sounds just like we expect a stewardship committee to be like isn’t it? And Ted’s response is just like us. We don’t mind giving to the church but we sure don’t want to be told what to give, how much to give, or when to give. And this “giving ourselves” idea just sounds a bit cultish, a bit fundamental. The real problem is Jesus statement about giving to God nails us to the wall. We don’t want to belong to anyone. It’s counter to our culture. It goes against the American Dream. We have the flawed idea that what we are and what we have is ours. After all, we work hard to earn the money we use to buy the stuff we have. Sometimes we sacrifice to get ahead. We scrimp and save to get what we want. Or some of us just over spend our future on credit to get our stuff. If I’m gonna pay ten times what something is worth just so I can have it now I’m sure gonna call it mine. And here Jesus says we aren’t even our own. That’s just counter to our culture. Sometimes Jesus just rubs us the wrong way, doesn’t he? Sometimes we just don’t understand or even like what he says.

That’s kind of the reaction Jesus’ enemies had too. They got a bit tired of getting nailed by Jesus. They got a bit tired of being told they were the problem. They didn’t like the idea of being told how they were wrong about their religious ideas. And they certainly didn’t like Jesus. In fact, they hated him. Finally Jesus answers to the questions that were designed to get Jesus, got Jesus nailed to the cross.

You know, there is something else about this idea of giving to God what is God’s. We talked about being in God’s image, and that’s true. But also just like Caesar’s name is on the coin, God’s name is on us. He put it there with water. Holy Baptism is God claiming us as his. We belong to him. His name is right here, on our forehead and upon our hearts. Receive the sign of the cross both upon your forehead and your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. (Rite of Holy Baptism, LSB p. 268) You’ve been marked with God’s name. And where his name is, God is with all his promises. It’s funny, in a way, because we don’t always like the idea. Sometimes we’d rather belong to ourselves. We’d rather give what belongs to God to ourselves. We think that we’ve been put here on earth to serve ourselves. St. Paul says it in 1 Corinthians:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV)

The price was Jesus nailed to the cross. Jesus crucified dead and buried to put to death the nature in us that wants serve itself. That’s what happens in Baptism. Luther says it like this:

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

When St. Paul says Glorify God in your body. He’s saying the same thing Luther says here and Jesus says. Give to God what is God’s.

And here we are right back to what Jesus said. When he says, give to God what is God’s he’s talking about living your life as a Baptized Child of God, a Christian. So what does that look like? Actually, there’s a way that that ties back to the first part of Jesus reply. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus could very well be saying, do what you’ve been given to do when you’ve been given to do it. Pay taxes when you’ve been given taxes to pay. Work for the church when you’ve been given that work to do. Really, giving to God isn’t always about what happens here in this building. It’s also about you serving your neighbor in what you do every single day. Moms change diapers, teachers teach, truck drivers drive and factory workers make things. Each of these is both giving to Caesar and giving to God. Serving your neighbor in what you’ve been given to do every day to the best of your ability is living before God in righteousness and purity and serving God with your body.

And yet that old sinful nature pops up again and again, changing our work for our neighbor to work for us. Well, drown him again in Baptism. Jesus Christ died on the cross for that sin. It is washed away, drowned dead. You can serve God instead. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus . Amen.

No comments: