Whose Are We?

    Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 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. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “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.” (Matthew 22:15-21)

Most of us have flipped a coin at some time or other to make a decision or settle an argument.

(Flip a coin and have someone call it).

Heads, we do this. Tails, we do that. One side of a coin has an image of a head on it and the other side has an image of something else. This was true even back in the first century. The coin that Jesus used in today’s Gospel had an image of Caesar, the Roman Emperor, on it. Jesus used that image to teach an important lesson.

Jesus had been preaching, teaching and healing for about 3 years by this time. Large crowds have gathered to listen to Him and there was talk starting about making this Jesus the new king of Israel. After all,

    • He could inspire huge crowds with His words.
    • He could feed thousands with very little food.
    • He could heal the sick, the lame, the blind and the mentally ill.
    • And He had the power to even raise people from the dead.

If Jesus were their King, there would surely be no power on earth that could stand against Israel. Not even the hated Romans could hold them back. Israel would once again become a great nation.

But there was a problem: the job of King was already taken. Judea, (the official name for Israel then) already had a King and that king’s name was Herod (the King who’d executed John Baptist). Herod’s followers were called Herodians and they, of course, wanted Herod as their king… not Jesus.

So, these Herodians conspired with the Pharisees, the officials for the Temple and the religious leaders, to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. They approached Jesus and asked:

    “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17)

Now, what’s odd about this question is that it was posed by a group of Pharisees and Herodians. The Pharisees hated Rome and claimed it was heresy to pay Roman taxes. And the Herodians wanted better relations with Rome and approved of Roman taxation.

The only reason they joined forces was because they both feared Jesus and wanted Him out of the way. So, if Jesus answered that the people Had To Pay their taxes the Pharisees could condemn Him to the crowds as a friend of the hated Romans. BUT if Jesus replied that people Should Not pay their taxes the Herodians would brand Him an enemy of Rome and had Him arrested.

It was the perfect trap. . . or so they thought.

They knew Jesus as a Rabbi, a Jewish teacher. And Rabbis ALWAYS answered questions people asked them, so it was a no-brainer that this man would answer them. But just to put a little extra honey on their trap, they put added flattery to their question to appeal to His vanity.

    “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion?…” (Matthew 22:16-17)

And they smiled to themselves. They smiled as they thought they had Jesus in their trap.

But, Jesus knew what these men were thinking longggg before they even showed up. These men were masters at deception and manipulation. And they probably have a track record of publicly humiliating those they dislike. These are the kinds of men Jesus knew well were enemies of justice and mercy.

But I bet Jesus smiled a bit too. He’s going to enjoy this. First He slapped them around a little bit.

    “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:18)

Basically He was saying:

    “Seriously??? You seriously think you can get me with silly question? really? Is that best you’ve got?

Then Jesus turns everything around and lays His own little trap.

He asks for a coin and then says to them:

    “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” (Matthew 22:20)

Now, it was a simple question. And the answer was equally simple:

    “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus says:

    “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

In that simple answer, Jesus destroyed their trap.

You do realize that the money you carry in your wallet doesn’t totally belong to you. It belongs to the US Government. The image on our money declares WHO those bills belong to. Look at any bill you have and you’ll see these words:

    “Federal Reserve Note. The United States of America”

Those words say WHO those bills belong to.

Just exactly what Jesus was saying. . . the image on the coin He was given declared who it belonged to. And that we must:

    “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

So how do I know what to give to the government? By the images on the bills and coins.

So, then, what do we give to God?

We give to God what has God’s image.

But where do we find God’s image?

Genesis 1:27 says,

    So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them

WE are created in God’s image and likeness.

You and I need to give what belongs to God – back to God.

We need to give US back to God.

Now how do we do that? How do we give ourselves to God?

First, we need to BELONG to Him. We are a part of Him, and need to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus, for He was as close to God as any living person could be. God tells us that when we do that He will guide us and care for us and bring us home to Him again. God marks us with His Spirit. He puts His IMAGE (His Holy Spirit) inside us to say we belong to Him.

But is that it? Is that ALL there is to it?

Yes, that is all there is to it!

This coin, this dollar – they represent the things of this world – not bad things, but certainly NOT the coins of God’s Kingdom. We use them, but they are not ours.

We belong to God – who made us. We ALWAYS will. We must love each other and do our best. In Micah 6:8, we hear:

    and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

That’s all there is –

And All we really ever need.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 19 October 2014

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