Trinity 20/Proper 24 Matthew 22:15-22
Matthew 22.15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 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. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “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.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Today 19/10/14 we have been asked by the Church of England to take part in a survey about church attendance. We have also used this opportunity to ask you some other questions linked to our services and worship.
In our gospel reading Jesus said that people should pay to Caesar what is due to him and give to God what is due to Him. The big question is, “What do we owe God?”
We can find the answer in our service with Jesus' summary of the law. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: The first commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
We could paraphrase this by saying we owe our complete love and devotion to God all the time, and we should love people, too. Our love of God should include us giving financially to the church and charitable causes, which is what Jesus was quizzed about, but it is a lot more than that.
One Sunday, a number of weeks ago, I asked one of our Brazil team if they had worshipped God that day. They retorted that they worshipped God every day! Which serves me right for using imprecise language. They were right. The believer should worship God every day with all their being.
This links in with what is on our service sheets at the end of the service. This is acknowledging that our worship of God doesn't end once we walk out of church. Rather, our church worship should equip us and inspire us to live for God for the rest of the week. “Almighty God, we thank you for feeding us with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.”
This, in turn reflects Paul's words to the Roman Christians, 12.1. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God– this is your true and proper worship.
Our epistle reading today featured Paul rejoicing in the faith of the Thessalonian Christians.
Paul acknowledged that they had v9 turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. This was due to the work of the Holy Spirit, leading to a deep conviction, verse 5.
Today there are many “idols” that can tempt people. Obvious things like money, possessions, pleasure, power, pride. But there are also other, more subtle idols, things that take the time and devotion that belong to God. The things we use to help us worship God can become idols. The form of service, the type of songs, the Bible. So, if someone says that they can only worship if a particular liturgy is used, or a certain style of song, have these things become idols. Are they the one that is being worshipped rather than our Lord and Saviour who is due our devotion, honour and praise?
I remember when I was at the Vicar factory, they used to alternate the Chapel worship between BCP and the Alternative Service Book. One student, who had not encountered the BCP before and didn't find it easy, declared that he would not let this get in the way of his worship, indeed, it would inspire him to worship God.
Not only had the Thessalonians turned to God this had affected the way that they lived. v9. turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
There practical faith became known “everywhere”, v8. We know from 2 Cor. 8.1-8 that this included giving to other Christians who were in need. This giving was exceedingly generous in relation to what they had. Described by Paul as “beyond their ability”.
So, giving to God and those in need is part of our worship of God. So, next time the collection plate comes round, or you see the Standing Order on your Bank Statement, remember it is part of your worship, and give thanks to God for who He is and being able to give. We should give in the way we have received from God. Cheerfully and graciously. This caused Paul to write 2 Cor. 9.7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. The Greek for cheerful is hilarion, from which we get the word “Hilarious”. So, we ought to be laughing with joy and generosity when the plate comes round.
So our whole life should be an act of worship. Showing how much God means to us and bringing praise to him. Jesus said, Matthew 5.16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. We are to shine for God and be seen by others. Like the Thessalonians whose faith was known “everywhere”.
I conclude with some words from a book “Young People and Worship” I read during my study leave ; “Properly, fully, worship is our wholehearted response to the wonderful, majestic, encouraging reality of God. Worship is our attempt to give God what He deserves. Worship is our attempt to cause God delight by living in His name to His glory. Worship is what happens when we are conscious of God and long to be closer to Him. Worship is standing before God and learning how to live. Worship is that 'yes' which is our heartfelt and instinctive response to the God who made us and loves us and died for us, who lives for us and in us.”
Poll Tax has always been an emotive issue. It has been introduced twice into this country and, in both cases was so unpopular it did not continue. It was also an issue for the Jews who were occupied by the Romans. Shortly before Jesus Judas the Galilean had led a tax-revolt . Their ambiguous motto was, 'Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve.'
'15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.'
Then and now entrapment is a legal offence. This was their motive, not to solve an issue of the day. They wanted to get their own back on Jesus who had first silenced them over whether John the Baptist was from men or God. Then he had embarrassed them by using the parables of the vineyard and the wedding banquet to condemn them.
Verse 16: They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "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.
The "Pharisees" were nationalistic Jews, and the "Herodians" , people who supported Herod, the Roman puppet king, and his successors. Normally opposed but united only in their desire to get rid of Jesus - speak to him.
"You aren't swayed by men": Biblical justice expects impartiality: no bribes, and tilting of the scales of justice towards the poorer litigant. They appear to respect him, but speak with irony. And then the question, the subject of great debate in Jewish circles: should we pay the annual poll tax to Rome?
Verse 17: " Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" A question of conscience for the Pharisees, but a foregone conclusion for the Herodians. Opinions varied: one group, the Zealots, claimed that God's people should not be subject to pagan Gentiles.
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Jesus sees through their plot; he calls them "hypocrites" . Originally the Greek word, hypokrites was a theatrical term meaning actor. They were pretending to respect him but intending to discredit him. If Jesus says yes pay the tax, Zealots and other Jews hostile to Rome will turn against him; if he says no, he will risk arrest for inciting rebellion against Rome.
19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 And he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" 21 Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Jesus sidesteps another issue (vv. 20-22): the obverse side of the coin is inscribed "Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest". This was an insult to Jews. The Romans believed in many gods, so it was not a great thing to add the latest Caesar to their list. Yet to a Jew there was only one God. Anyone claiming to be god would therefore be blasphemous.
We know his answer, as translated, but "Give" can be give back or repay. To Jews then and to us now, all we have is given to us by God; we owe everything to him. Verse 21: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" Jesus accepts the status quo as the lesser of two evils, the other being anarchy. He does not accept the state's claim to be divine. God's domain is greater than the emperor's. Yet there is also the case for paying taxes to a government. Jesus answer is so clever that it once more silences his opponents who go away. A few days later they would kill him. Thinking that this would silence him and get him out of their hair.
To summarise Jesus' teaching :
We should willingly pay the government tax.
Why ? They are put there by God. cf Romans 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
A few years a Vicar and former professional footballer, Peter Hart, came to speak at a sports evening at the Queen's Head next door. He referred to a practice that went on of Football Clubs giving cash back-handers in brown envelopes to the players so they would not have to pay tax and National Insurance. Once he became a Christian he stood up against this and asked that these bonuses be included in his pay packet and, therefore, be subject to tax.
When we fail to pay tax or allow it to happen this is wrong. We are going against God's plans. We are cheating fellow tax payers.
Talk of not enough money for Health Service. But if there was no withholding of tax could well pay for Health Service that we want. Affects everybody. Not clever, or to go along with. Yet there may be extreme occasions when a government is going against God's ways so much that they cannot be supported and withholding tax may be a valid means of protest. Some pacifists have done this over the use of nuclear weapons and withheld tax in proportion to that spent on nuclear arms.
We should pay God what is due to Him.
This was not the main thrust of Jesus' teaching here because it would be assumed that a good Jew would give God his due.
We live in a materialistic world which has it's own idols, things that people worship. Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica ( 1:1-10 ) rejoiced in the news that the Christians there had turned from idols to the living and true God. They had put their hope in waiting for the return of the risen Lord Jesus, not the worthless things that they could see.
This should put our thoughts about money, paying tax and giving to God into context. Money cannot buy happiness. John D. Rockefeller said, 'I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness. I would barter them all for the days I sat in an office stool in Cleveland and counted myself rich on 3 dollars a week.'
Money and the things it can buy will be of no value when Jesus returns. Therefore, why should we pursue it to build a false security that will not bring happiness and, one day, be worthless ? Some think in terms of giving as little as they can to God. We need to ask the question, 'Are you giving what is right, or what is left ?!'
Holy Trinity Brompton who launched the 'Alpha Course' do not teach tithing, that is to say, giving a set proportion of someone's income, usually 10%. They avoid this because they say that they want people to be generous to God rather than having a set proportion that is expected of them. I can see the value of this. For the Jews of Jesus' day 10% was the minimum expected of them. How much more than this, therefore, should Christians respond to the generosity of God who did not spare his only son.
It has been said that there are 3 types of giving : grudge giving; duty giving; and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, 'I have to'. Duty giving says, 'I ought to'. Thanksgiving says, ' I want to'.
God has revealed himself as a God who loves us. Who has bought us at the price of His only Son. We remember and proclaim that love for us in this service. Our response should be one of giving. Not a certain percentage of money, but a wholehearted giving of ourselves back to God in love and gratitude for all that he has given us.
This should involve our money and also our time, talents, energies, our reputations. We should offer everything back to God. We have been bought at a price. Therefore, we no longer own ourselves, we belong to God. Let us show that. Not merely I by agreeing to financial demands, but by living lives marked by self-giving love that reflect God's love for us.
It has been said that happiness consists of 3 things: something to love; something to do; something to look forward to. For the believer Christ is the one who is loved; His service is the something that he has to do; and His approval and eternal companionship are what is hoped for.