I.Theme – Grow in trust and generosity as followers of Christ and discover new ways of living our stewardship. God rules over all creation
"The Tribute Money" – Jacek Malczewski (1908)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
In the Isaiah reading God directs affairs of Israel’s adversaries. Isaiah 45:1-7 speaks of God’s anointing of Cyrus to help bring the deliverance of Israel out of exile
While the Jews were exiled in Babylon, the Persian emperor Cyrus began defeating neighboring kingdoms and letting the defeated peoples practice their own religions. Isaiah foresaw Cyrus defeating Babylon and liberating the captives there. The Jews would be free to return to Jerusalem. So in this passage, the prophet declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, is God’s instrument, even God’s "Anointed," that is, "Messiah."
This is the only occurrence in the Old Testament of the term "messiah" referring to someone outside of the covenant community. Of Cyrus it is said that God calls him by name, language applied previously to Abraham and Israel, indicating a close relationship between God and his anointed ‘agent’. God’s sovereignty is, however, absolute: I am the Lord; there is no other
This was a daring thing to say by Isaiah so may have cost the prophet dearly.
Isaiah, while speaking to the Hebrews in exile about to return, gives us a glimpse of the kind of Messiah God would bring in Jesus–someone who would be an unlikely leader but one who would break through the gates and chains that kept the people separated from God–sin, the oppression by the religious elite, prejudice, poverty, racism, and all other barriers to freedom in God–Jesus would break these wide open.
What was going on among the Christians in Thessalonia that led Saint Paul to write? That unfolds slowly in the selections we’ll proclaim over five Sundays. From today’s text, it’s clear that these people worked hard at being Christians, and that Saint Paul thought that praiseworthy. Paul greets them with the assurance that God has chosen them for great works of faith
Thessalonia was a new Christian community less than a year old. Despite this newness the Thessalonians are held up as examples for all across the young church. The word example is one that speaks volumes for the Thessalonians were folk who did not shout about what they had done, but acted out that they had turned from idols and all that that lead to and in that living proclaimed the Good News.
The life and faith of the Thessalonians, in the face of persecution, is a sign that God has chosen them: they are imitators of the Lord and an example to others.
Psalm 96 sings praises to God who is the judge of the world, the judge of all nations, and reminds us that God is the one due our praise and worship, and that the whole earth is judged by God. Psalm 99 similarly sings of God as judge over the peoples, and that God hears the prayers of the prophets and priests who call on God’s name. Both psalms call upon the people to worship God and to remember that God is the one who is the judge of the world.
Matthew 22:15-22 is the story of how Jesus was questioned about paying taxes. He redirects Pharisees thought to God’s sovereignty.
The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus, so they had the Herodians accompany them, members of the ruling family who were Hellenistic Jews–they had taken on the practices and culture of the Greeks and were mainly Jewish in name only, as they were privileged in living off of the wealth of the people and kept in power by Rome.
The question of whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to the emperor was loaded. The tax in question was an annual tax, administered by Jewish authorities, but levied by Rome. This tax put such a burden on impoverished Jews in Palestine that, at least on one occasion, it provoked rebellion against Rome that ended the way Rome tended to end things – decisively and with much bloodshed.
When Jesus is asked about paying taxes, they are questioning his authority–is the Messiah really going to rise up against Rome, which means rising up against these Herodians, or is this Messiah a coward, going to bow to the pressure of Herod’s family under Rome?
So, if Jesus answers his opponents simply by saying yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, then he risks alienating the poor and the oppressed who bore the greatest burden. And if he says, no, it is not lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, he risks facing charges of sedition. Jesus’ answer, therefore, is brilliant, as he allows for the possibility of paying these taxes but makes it clear to any person of faith that he or she must consider what belongs to God.
Jesus, in reminding them that the coin shows the Emperor’s face, saying the famous “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” shows that the Messiah is neither an earthly leader going to overthrow the Roman government nor is he a coward bowing to the pressures of the ruling class.
God is concerned about Godly things–which is everything. Since God has given everyone all that they have, everything belongs to God. Caesar may think he is God or may be called a god, but he is not. If one knows the one true God, then one knows that all things come from God. God is interested in how we use our resources, how we live on this earth, how we do what God has called us to do, and is less concerned about whether or not we pay taxes. It is how we use what we have been given to further God’s kingdom and remembering that God has given us everything that is important.
Old Testament – Isaiah 45:1-7
Isaiah chapters 40-66 contain prophecies and proclamations that were designed to comfort God’s people when they found themselves in Babylonian captivity. Though Isaiah himself did not live during the period of Babylonian captivity, as a prophet he was able to speak words of comfort to those who would experience that difficult time of Israel’s history.
More specifically, Chapters 44-45 reassure the people of Israel as God’s chosen, as the Lord promises to deliver them through Cyrus of Persia. Such deliverance will cause many others to turn to God.
Isaiah shows us the improbable methods God is using. God uses whatever persons and methods he wants to, whether we like them or not. He is not defeated by the gritty realities of human history; he is using them for a redemptive purpose, so that even a Cyrus can foreshadow the true Shepherd and Messiah, Jesus Christ.
But God proclaims his sovereign right and will to make them all work together to produce the results he wants: a restored Jerusalem and a free exilic community.
Isaiah 45:1-7 gives the example of Cyrus, a governmental leader of Persia, who was not a believer in Yahweh, yet who was God’s anointed (messiah in Hebrew), who would free the Israelites from their bondage in Babylonia. The word “messiah” refers to a king or priest who by his anointing is designated and authorized by God to fulfill that role. He is set apart.
Governmental officials, even unbelieving ones, can be agents to bring about God’s will on earth.
Cyrus is the only non-Israelite leader to be called a messiah. He is the Persian ruler who conquered Babylon in 539 BCE. Cyrus’s messianic status should give us pause, if not surprise and offense. Two thousand years of Christian history have solidified the connection of the name Jesus with title Christ, and rightly so, for that is what Jesus is: God’s anointed one.
It is also likely that the first recipients of the royal oracle in Isaiah 45:1-7 – exiled Jews living in Babylon – would have been stunned to hear the prophet say such a thing
But God will give Cyrus victories even though Cyrus does not acknowledge God. God’s aim is that Cyrus and the world will come to recognize God as the one who brings about weal (shalom) to people who are being delivered such as the victims of the Babylonians and woe (calamity) to those God is putting down which in this context is Babylonia.
Cyrus had profited from many circumstances other than his military strength. He had gained the following of all the Persian tribes with singular ease. He gained an ally in Babylon against Media. Two successive Median armies that were sent against him decided to join forces with him instead. His generosity toward the conquered worked in his favor. He marched without opposition into Armenia and won a surprise victory over the Lydians when their horses were frightened by the smell of Persian camels. And now Babylon, the world’s most heavily fortified city, opens its gates to him without a fight
Eventually Cyrus did recognized God (Ezra 1:1-4 though not to the exclusion of other Gods. Cyrus is credited in Ezra 1:1–4 with issuing an edict in his first year (presumably as king of Babylon, 538 B.C.); allowing the Jews freedom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and commanding that Persian vassals along the way provide support. Ezra 1:5–8 reports an expedition being given the Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem . The version of this edict on the famous Cyrus cylinder states, "I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon."
That was his general policy because he wanted the favor of all the gods.
But in spite of his relative importance in the human community of the sixth century BCE, he was only an instrument in God’s hand. He was anointed, yes, but only for the specific task of releasing the captive peoples.
Implicit in this discussion of knowing God is, of course, whether the people of Israel themselves truly know the God who called and formed them. So much of Isaiah 40-55 is preoccupied with persuading the exiles to trust God. The exiles must recognize that they have none of the Persian monarch’s excuses. Their knowledge of God must usher forth into a trust in God for the new thing he is doing
In v6, Yahweh’s empowerment of Cyrus will lead to Yahweh’s worldwide recognition as lord of all.
From the rising sun and from its setting place demonstrates the territorial scope of world empire which sets the stage for Yahweh’s new activity. Israel is called to function as witness and messenger on that stage. Although she might have been more comfortable in the confines of Canaan, never again would she be allowed that luxury.
In v7, the prophet also renounces the dualistic nature of Persian religion. Persian religion dealt in opposites of light and darkness. Yahweh creates both- forms light and creates darkness, makes weal and creates woe. While monotheism has a difficult time explaining the existence of natural catastrophes if the one God is in control of everything, it also suggests that there is nothing outside of God’s purview and that all issues can be laid at Yahweh’s feet.
This sweeping affirmation remains challenging even when we focus on its special purpose in this context. It might seem easier to attribute "darkness" and "woe" to forces and beings other than God; and on the finite, human plane one finds plenty of causes of disaster. But the prophet challenges God’s people to know that Yahweh speaks the final word in and for human history.
Psalms 96, 97 and 98 are referred to as ‘enthronement psalms’ by scholars because they sing praise to Yahweh, Israel’s God who is enthroned as king over the cosmos, the kgin overall creation. They are a set of four hymns of praise
Psalms 96 begins by calling the people to ‘sing to the LORD a new song’ The reason for the summons in the case of Ps. 96.4-6 is the greatness of Yahweh the creator above all other gods who are but idols.
In each case, the initial calls are followed by a longer summons for all creation to praise Yahweh (Ps. 96.7-13a; together with a second reason for praise, ‘for he is coming to judge the earth’ (96.13; 98.9). These songs of praise follow the usual pattern in psalms of praise of a call to praise followed by a reason for that praise.
The psalm is divided into four parts; parts one and three were imperatives, parts two and four explained the reasons for the imperatives
1 [1-3], the liturgical herald commanded the congregation to “Sing!” as a means to praise God and witness to his activity. The phrase "new song" does not indicate a song sung to a tune that has never been heard before, but rather refers to the beginning of a new era, a new epoch in history. It is the t reign of God, rather than a king of the line of David, as sovereign over Israel and the whole earth.
The Historical Background: In the Ancient Near East, people gained protection, livelihood, prosperity, and justice by giving allegiance to the king who ruled over a particular city or district. Being subject to the ruler guaranteed safety and way of life. If you traveled outside your own city or district, you were immediately at the mercy of a different ruler, one who may not look favorably upon you. Such was life for the people of Old Testament times.
Book 4 of the Psalms 90-106 deal with exile in Babylonia. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took the Hebrew people captive, such a protected and guaranteed life disappeared. Israel no longer had their own king — their own protector. They were subjects of a foreign king. And even when they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they were still subjects of foreign rulers — the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. Who would protect the Hebrew people, guarantee their livelihood and survival as individuals and as a people, and who would administer justice?
Davidic kingship was no more; a foreign king reigned as sovereign. What did that mean for the exiled Israelites? Would they simply be absorbed into the vast Babylonian empire? Or could they find a way to maintain their identity as the people of Yahweh, their God?
In these new circumstances, it seems, the only option was to accept God as king; not a human being.
Why? An interesting aspect of the Enthronement Psalms is their incorporation of what scholars call "creation language." Verse 5 of Psalm 96 says, "For all the gods of the people are idols, but the LORD made the heavens." How? Without a human king to guarantee protection, livelihood, prosperity, and justice for the people of Israel, how would such care be provided? How does God — the God of the heavens and the earth — reign in the midst of this messiness called the present reality? The answer is what some scholars describe as a "democratization" of kingship, when the people of God join together to bring about the reign of God on the earth — what Jesus continually referred to as "the kingdom of God."
Each person must consciously strive to be fully human, human in the way that God created them to be — in rightness and faithfulness to the human community. Each person much strive to create a world in which all are cared for, provided for, lifted up, satisfied, and have an opportunity to be all that God created them to be.
And how does the kingdom of God come about? By each of us who acknowledge God as sovereign in our lives becoming the arms and legs and voice and conscience of God in our world. We are the arms and legs and voice and conscience of God on this earth — the embodiment of the kingdom of God.
A daunting task? Yes. Can it be any other way? No. God is in control over this place we call home, this earth. But God has being and substance in those of us who proclaim God as sovereign in our lives
2 [4-6] the herald proclaimed the reason for the song, the overwhelming glory of God. The sense of holiness that the Temple and its cult evoked exalted YHWH beyond that of any other god. His power created the heavens, while the other gods did nothing. Notice that the glory of YHWH (i.e., his reputation) preceded him (like the song of the pilgrim in procession to Jerusalem?) and dwelled in the Temple itself (in its
3 [7-10] commanded the nations to worship God along with the congregation, but their worship comprised of tribute. “Give!” was the refrain; the Gentiles were to recognize YHWH as the Lord, give gifts, then bow in worship. (It was customary for foreigners and Jews outside of the Jerusalem to pay for Temple upkeep; locals were exempt from the “Temple tax” but did contribute to local charities.) At the end of part three, YHWH was exalted as the King, the just Judge who would make the entire world secure.
4 [11-13] appeared to be another imperative, it actually explained part three. Why should the Gentiles worship the Jewish Deity? The answer could be found in the praise of nature itself. Let the heavens …the earth…the seas and all that fills it…the plains rejoice. The nations were to join in the praise of creation for its God. YHWH approached his people; creation itself responded with worship and praise
Why do we praise God? Faith demands we recognize our utter dependance on the Lord; praise is the logical response to our dependance. Faith also sees the place of enemies and strangers and even creation itself at the altar of worship. Faith drives us on to give God praise individually and in community.
Epistle – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Thessalonia, northeast of the Greek Macedonia, lay along a major trade route and at the mouth of the Thermaic gulf. As a rich trade center, it enjoyed status as a Roman free city, with many tax breaks; it repaid the favor with a deep loyalty to the Eternal City.
The cosmopolitan character of the city seemed to find its way into the community, as it was both Jew and Gentile. (Notice the blessing of "grace," a Greek term, and "peace," a Hebrew term, that were synonymous. Both referred to the presence of God.)
The tensions between the two groups and the distractions of the city made the community struggle to hold onto the faith. In this greeting and thanksgiving, Paul recognized their struggle to live the theological virtues (faith, love, and hope). [1:3] And he saluted their spiritual growth in the gospel Paul taught them. [1:5] Paul thought of them many times simply because they showed themselves to be God’s beloved and chosen. [1:4, 2]
Why did Paul lavish all this attention on the Thessalonians? Paul struggled to establish the church in the city. As Acts 17 tells us, Paul and Silas (= Silvanus) entered the city to preach in the Jewish synagogue. Some Jews joined the new movement. More important, many Gentiles (along with some leading women of the city who would act as benefactors) converted. Leaders at the synagogue reacted by creating a mob scene and bringing the local Christian leaders before the local magistrates. The charge was
"These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." Acts 17:6-7.
So the local church began with controversy with the local Jews and the popular dedication to Rome.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians began with a blessing and praise. The community at Thessalonika had adopted the faith with great opposition.
Unlike the internal strife in Corinthian assembly, this church had a cohesive faith with a sense of unity and purpose. The many competing religious movements among the pagans in the city, the extreme loyalty to Rome and the imperial cult from the city leaders, and fierce competition from the Jewish synagogue created an survival mentality among the local Christians. There was no time for cliques, fancy theologies, or leadership intrigue. The Thessalonians were true to the teaching and example of Paul and his friends. Indeed, Paul could see some of the opposition he faced on the road mirrored in the conditions at Thessalonika.. [1:6].
Because of their struggle, the Thessalonians gained a favorable reputation among the Christians in the region. [1:7] In fact, Paul implied their reputation had evangelistic power. Their church became an example for others. Why? In spite of the competition and social pressure, the Thessalonians proved themselves very hospitable, very open to the Paul’s teaching, and very faithful to their new religion. [1:9-10].
Like their contemporaries, the Thessalonians should inspire us. We should emulate their qualities of gracious hospitality and spiritual openness, balanced with fidelity to the Christian message despite opposition and competing messages. They were patient and steadfast. So should we.
He has heard news from Timothy (3:6) who has reported that all is well with this new community of faith. They have apparently been subject to adversity and have held firm. They also seem to have stayed with Paul’s approach to the gospel and not wavered. Paul is wanting to consolidate what seems to be a stable community.
Paul is also concerned about the relationship between himself and his team and the community. So he reminds them of the founding visit. It is interesting to see him stressing the miraculous side of his visit (1:5). That will later turn around against him when opponents accuse him of being deficient in this regard or not as impressive – as we see in the later parts of 2 Corinthians. Even here one suspects that Paul is being very sensitive to potential rivals.
Gospel – Matthew 22:15-22
In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to a friend, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." Nearly 150 years later (1936), Margaret Mitchell used a similar phrase in Gone with the Wind: "Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them."
The Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus during Passover week on the heels of the Palm Sunday march and demonstration for liberation when hopes of Messianic revolution and liberation are running high. They use a supposed faith-based concern to further their political agenda as they try to get Jesus to make a statement against the Roman government or one that will alienate his supporters. They try to set him up in order to take him down.
B. Type of story and Background
The Pharisees’ question about the tribute money is a classic example of the so-called pronouncement story, with its threefold form of setting, action, and pronouncement. Everything in this story is subordinated to the punchline: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
We have read 3 parables against the Pharisees
-Pharisees (Two Sons where the tax collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom of heaven before the Pharisees),
– the Wicked Tenants (the Pharisees/religious leaders) killed the prophets and the owner’s son, and
– the Marriage Feast where those initially invited to the banquet (Pharisees/religious leaders) would not taste the banquet.
After these stinging parables against the Pharisees, they come back for more. The following incident is not a parable but an event, a moment in time, an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees.
C. Pharisees and Herodians
The Pharisees represented religious purity and emphasizing such you might say they were separatists. They insisted upon absolute adherence to the Law. In fact, they created an entire code of living as a means to protect the faithful Jew from ever violating the Law (the so-called "fence around the Torah"). The rabbis who followed the Pharisees ruled Jewish ghettoes in Roman cities. The Pharisees worked with their Roman overlords as a matter of necessity.
The Pharisees wanted Jesus to make some verbal mistake and implicate himself as not being fully supportive of the Roman government and Caesar. These phony Pharisees would then accuse Jesus of being “anti-Caesar.” They were trying to get Jesus to withhold his support for the government.
In trapping Jesus, they also had to distance Him from themselves – they had to be seen as accepting the rule of Rome or risk losing the religious freedom they had. By “discovering” His revolutionary tendencies and handing Him over to the Romans, they would be shown to be loyal subjects and their religious rights would continue to be protected.
The Pharisees were popular with the people because they in principle resented and resisted the tax, but did not go as far as the radical nationalists who publicly resisted its payment. The Pharisees were generally experts in knowing how to apply the Scriptures to everyday life so they knew this was a highly controversial issue which was likely to expose the naiveté of uneducated preachers.
The Herodians, however, built their power base upon the Roman occupation. The Herodians needed to put on the facade of religious practice to publically justify their private lives as Roman "wanna-be’s."
The Herodians belonged to the official court of King Herod and his descendants. The Herodians were a political force of Jewish people but who worked for the Roman government – overt supporters of Rome. They were the puppet rulers of Rome in Israel. Herod Antipas in Galilee in the north and Perea across the Jordan from Jerusalem and Judea; and Philip further north in and beyond Galilee. They were encumbered with the task of quelling riots and dampening down resentment against Rome.
Ironically, these “trappers” were usually adversarial towards each other. The Pharisees were nationalists who resented the Roman occupation and any reminder of the oppression symbolized by Roman presence. The Herodians were those whose power and positions had been conferred by Rome; they were the gatekeepers for the empire, pawns in the hands of the Empire used to maintain oppression. It has been said that “politics makes strange bedfellows.”
D. The Tax and the Coins
The tax was a poll tax payable to the Romans by everyone whose name was in the census. This, therefore, it will be observed, was strictly a civil tax.” The "census tax," which was instituted in 6 CE when Judea became a Roman province, "triggered the nationalism that finally became the Zealot movement, which fomented the disastrous war of 66-70."
It consisted of a flat-rate personal tax on all men from age fourteen and women from age twelve to age sixty-five and was levied at least at the rate of one denarius (about a day’s wage) per year. Later it was combined with a percentage tax on property."
Paying taxes with Roman coins raised both political and religious issues.
The annual payment of this tax to Rome was a painful reminder of being in lands occupied by foreign powers who worshiped false gods. True Israelites hated the tax because it admitted slavery to Rome and therefore, dishonored God.
The tax could only be paid with Roman coins which were not just legal tender but also pieces of propaganda. Most of the coins contained an image of the Caesar with inscriptions proclaiming him to be divine or the son of a god. One common phrase on coins during the time of Jesus was: "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest." "Graven images" and polytheism were blasphemous to both Jews and Christians.
Life in Matthew’s 1st century was also different from American 21st century in that Christianity was an illegal religion, which occasionally resulted in persecution and death to the believers. While there is no indication of severe persecution of Christians in Matthew, there had been a few years earlier when Nero was emperor. That would make questions about paying taxes to the government even more crucial.
The Jews understood that they owed some allegiance to their pagan overlords, since in the end, all authority is derived from God. Yet, paying tribute was more in keeping with God’s people in exile than residents of the Davidic city of Jerusalem. The Jews were the people of God, not the people of Rome. Even more so, if Jesus were the messiah, political independence from Rome was an obvious consequence of messianic deliverance.
E. Four Problems
Problem1 – Thus the coin violates the commandments to have no other Gods except the Lord,
No other religion previous to Judaism had such a concept of one God. As Judaism spread throughout the known world, their concept of God easily grew from a national deity to a universal one. The God without an image was no longer one deity among those of other nations. He was the only God. The Pharisees objected to the use of denarius because it bordered on violating the First Commandment ("I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me").
Caesar, originally the family name of Julius Caesar, became a title, meaning "emperor." Augustus was a title adopted by Octavius, the nephew of Julius, when he became emperor. Octavius’ reign was long and successful, bringing peace and prosperity to the empire. At his death, the city fathers proclaimed him divine (his reign was divine providence, so he must be divine).
Problem 2 – The commandment not to make any images of God.
Possessing such a coin was extremely problematic for faithful, observant Jews because not having it meant running afoul of the Romans, and having it was a violation of core Torah law.
Therefore there were “exchange tables” outside the temple, in order to trade Roman coins for more “kosher coins” that were acceptable for offerings within the Jewish temple.
The Jewish people were fanatical about not worshipping images of the emperor and hence would not use Roman coins for worship. But it also seems that during the rest of the week, the people used the Roman monetary system, including the common denarius.
Problem 3 – Since the Pharisees were separatists (not nationalists), they wanted to keep contact with the Romans to a minimum. Use of the denarius increased cultural contact, thus "polluting" the purity of the Jewish people. In Judea itself, authorities minted coins in Hebrew, thus creating a dual currency. Many Pharisees depended upon foreign money changers to exchange Roman coins for local Judean coins (and even pay the tax for them!). To maintain purity, Pharisees devised all types of means to separate themselves from the Romans, yet keep their overlords happy.
Problem 4 – Payment with the denarius meant tribute (an act that honored the emperor and his gods) not merely taxation. Roman law required the payment of the coin from every freeman in the Empire. While this was a small tax, the act itself loomed large in the Jewish mind. Payment could be understood as an act of idolatry.
Of course, the Herodians were overjoyed with the use of Roman money, since they saw the future of Judaism within the Greek culture of the Empire. The Herodians reflected many other Jewish thinkers who drew the best from the contemporary culture to affirm the place of Judaism in the known world.
F. The Conundrum
->“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.
They laud Jesus for being a man of character and conviction
Jesus does not let other people determine his teaching or actions.
While we hear the Herodians and disciples of the Pharisees say these things about Jesus, we also know that they are not being true. They are deceptive and conniving. They are seeking to trap Jesus. They address him as teacher and praise his genuine teaching, but they aren’t really interested in learning from him.
Their comments are also ironical because Jesus is concerned about other people. He heals the sick, frees the demon-possessed, forgives sinners, suffers and dies for the sake of the world. No one has cared for others as much as he did. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t do any of this to please the other people. His motivation is not what others might think of him (positive or negative), but to do the will of his father in heaven. "To fulfill all righteousness," to use his phrase from his baptism (Mt 3:15). As such, he illustrates what it means to live under God’s authority.
->Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
Does the Torah permit a faithful, observant Jew – like the Pharisees for example – to pay Roman taxes?
Jesus answers and shows that he is aware of their trickery. He calls them "hypocrites," because they show something on the outside (flattery) that is quite opposite of what is true internally
The conundrum for Jesus is this:
1. If he answers yes, then he could be perceived as in collusion with Rome, justifying Roman occupation and oppression of the Jews. It will disappoint those who have placed their hopes for justice on the shoulders of this messiah, and they will label him a hypocritical traitor
This would not be a popular answer among the Jewish people. The Pharisees could charge him with idolatry
However, those authorities have been instituted by God. In the book of Ephesians, it said that God instituted marriage. God created the institution of marriage for our good. So likewise, God instituted human government for our good. If you do not have human government, you have anarchy and chaos.
2. On the other hand, if Jesus answers no, he could be suspected of revolutionary sentiment against Rome. If he says they should not pay taxes, the intelligence network will get word to Rome, and he and his followers could be victims of the same violent consequences met by those who incited the tax revolt two decades earlier
Strategies for change in society require common sense. Jesus was not joining those who had reached such a point of religious despair that they saw the call to open conflict as the only option.
Given Jesus’ repeated use of the Old Testament highlighted throughout Matthew and his preaching of the arrival of God’s kingdom, it is difficult to imagine that Jesus would see much of anything falling outside of "the things that are God’s" (see Psalm 24:1— "The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.").
-> 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?”
Jesus traps his adversaries by asking for the coin,
Jesus’ question, "Whose image is this, and whose title?" echoes Genesis 1:27
When one of them produces it – likely one of the Herodians – it demonstrates their hypocrisy. They are the ones carrying around Caesar’s money, not Jesus; How could an observant Jew – and a leader at that – have such a coin on their person?
When they identify the emperor’s face and title , Jesus delivers an amazing and rather ambiguous one-liner: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s" (22:21).
The first clause on its own indicates that the tax should be paid, since the emperor’s image and inscription on the coin would cause it to fall under "things that are the emperor’s." On the other hand, the final clause places a question mark on what belongs to whom!
Jesus’ response does not advocate withholding taxes. He is prepared to pay taxes and to urge that his followers do so.
How do we know what things belong to Caesar? They have his image ("head" in NRSV) on them! How do we know what things belong to God? They have God’s image on them!
The word for "image" (eikon) is used in the LXX in Gen 1:26-27: "Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; . . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
And in Gen 5:1: "This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God."
And in Gen 9:6: ". . . for in his own image God made humankind."
What are we to give to God? The things stamped with God’s image — us! We are to give God ourselves — our whole selves — not just some part
We cannot say that "this part belongs to God, so I will give it to God." Everything we are and everything we have belongs to God. Everything we are and everything we have we are to give (back) to God. We are but mere managers or stewards of these gifts God has given to us.
The word "give" in Jesus’ answer, can mean "give back" . The word was used in the sense of "paying back" a debt in the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 34). While not literally a "pay back," the word was used of the new tenants who will "give (back)" the owner the fruit at the proper time (21:41). The word carries the sense of giving (back) that which already belongs to the other person.
Yet these are a people who know that they were created in the image of God, and though they live under subjugation, they continue to bear the image of God. The coin is a temporal thing that is given to Caesar in exchange for particular "blessings," but the true blessing of life, of breath, of body, of soul, mind and spirit are from God and should be offered back to God. You, who bear the image of God, belong first and foremost to God. Allegiance to God and to Caesar do not occupy two separate realms; Caesar’s realm is a limited one within the all-encompassing reign
However to the Roman ears it would sound like Jesus is saying, "Pay your taxes," because for them the "Emperor" is "God." Jesus is just repeating himself when he says: Give to the Emperor (who is God) the things are the Emperor’s (who is God) and to God (who is the Emperor) the things that are God’s (who is the Emperor).
Did Jesus and his followers ever pay a tax? Pay a toll? The Bible doesn’t say. Though to be alive in a Roman occupied land would almost certainly have meant that indeed they paid taxes and tolls, and had Roman coins in their money bag. However, within days of this exchange one of the charges brought against Jesus as he stands before Pilate is "forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor" (Luke 23:2). Faithful service to God is always costly.
A Caesar has his own legitimate but limited sphere, and even that he holds it under God and is responsible to God for its proper governance.
This does not necessarily mean that the state itself has to profess Christianity. It means that the state must be what it is and perform the proper functions of a state in maintaining law and order and promoting the welfare of its citizens.
But when it oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are in the last resort absolved from obedience. We must give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and not the things that are God’s. We must obey God rather than human beings.
The kingdom Jesus comes to inaugurate, his new community, must render both to Caesar and to God
In one short sentence Jesus lays down a simple principle to cover the schizophrenia of living in the world, while not being of the world. Jesus tells us how to survive with one foot in heaven and one foot on earth
B. However, Jesus affirms the all encompassing reach of God’s ownership in a way that relativizes imperial claims of right to rule
The profundity of Jesus’ response is not license for us to separate the sacred from the secular, which we too often do. Instead, it is intended to help us make a determination regarding our ultimate allegiance Jesus challenges his enemies to check their politics at the altar of ultimate allegiance.
The beauty of Jesus’ answer is that he both concedes payment of the census tax while subverting the reach of the emperor. If read one way, Jesus’ answer is simply an affirmation of Christian submission to governing authorities.
If everything is God’s, then in all things I will seek God’s will and that will entail measuring all things, including governments, by the vision Jesus has given us of God’s rule or kingdom. God’s compassion knows no bounds, so it will always be an irritant to regimes which stifle it and it will stand in conflict with oppressors, whoever and wherever they are.
Then there is the temptation from political authorities – we Christians face a perpetual temptation to accept the promise of material blessings from political or economic systems in exchange for circumscribing our commitment to God.
C. Live in the real world – Religious decisions apply the ideal to the real world, not an exercise of the ideal in spite of the real world. By taking a position in the middle, by stressing the personal responsibility of religious action, Jesus placed the onus of action back on the Pharisees and the Herodians. The ideal and the real are not mutually exclusive
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm – Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]
Epistle – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Gospel – Matthew 22:15-22