Trinity 23 – Matthew 22:15-22 – November 18th and 19th, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Oh no, what do you want? There's that moment, that thought that runs across your mind whenever someone comes up to you and starts sweet talking, starts buttering you up, and you think, “Oh no – you are laying this on thick – what do you want? Just get to the point and tell me.” That's the sort of situation Jesus finds Himself in this evening/ morning in our Gospel lesson. This is during holy week while Jesus is teaching in the temple, and we hear this: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him 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.” Can you hear it getting a bit deep in here? If our farmers could spread a bit of that on their fields this winter they'd double their harvest next fall, that is rich!
So here's the situation – you have the Pharisees, the muckity-mucks of Jewish religious society, and Jesus has been annoying them – so much so that they want him ruined or dead. And they do get Him dead by the end of the week – keep that in mind. And so to make things awkward for Jesus, they start talking to Him in front of a bunch of Herodians – these are Herod's people. Political movers and shakers. Herod's allies – you know, Herod, very worldly guy, chopped off John the Baptist's head. So, you've got the hyper religious and the hyper worldly – and Jesus, You don't care what anyone thinks, You speak your mind. Okay, if your thanksgiving dinner can get a bit awkward because you have that one crazy super conservative relative and that other crazy liberal one, and they'll be sitting together at dinner and you'll be there thinking, “Just no one bring up politics or the president...” - well, that's the setting here. And they're buttering Jesus up to boot – see where this is going?
So Jesus, since you don't care about folks opinions and are just such a straight shooter, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Oh, this is a 1st Century sticky-wicket. See, because the Romans conquered Jerusalem, the Jewish people were forced to pay a tax, which was a sore and bitter topic. Now, the Herodians didn't mind, because this paid them, but it's a touchy subject. And Jesus is in the temple, surrounded by run of the mill Jewish folks who hate the Romans and hate the tax – and then there's the money changers tables that He just overturned – do you get how this is meant to be a trap? Hey, you're honest – pass the turkey and then tell us, what do you think of the new Tax plan – while Uncle Foxnews and Aunt MSNBC just glare waiting to jump down your throat? My this, turkey is good this year...
Well, they were setting Jesus up, they were mocking Him a bit when they said it, but they were right. Jesus doesn't pay attention to appearance and He doesn't care about people's opinion, so He lays out a blunt answer. “But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, 'Why put me to the test you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” Okay, you guys are being jerks, and I'll prove it. Ready for me to prove that you're a hypocrite? Well, you know, the Son of Man has no place to rest His head, and Judas is the group treasurer, so I don't have any money on me – can you can show Me the coin that you use to pay the tax? “And they brought Him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Hey guys, there's a graven image on this – funny that, we are in the temple and all, where we you know, have our own temple currency with those money changers, and they would bilk and rob people blind in money transactions because we weren't going to use money with a fellow's graven image on it here in the temple – oh, but you brought some of this idol-money into the temple. Well then, what idol is that there on this money? Whose word is written on this here idol-money? “They said, 'Caesar's.' Then He said to them, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.” Well, it's his money – I suppose if you want to have this money and use it to buy all the stuff that you Pharisees like, I guess you'll have to pay your taxes. However, what you should be focused on isn't just Caesar's stuff – but here we are, in the Temple of God. Perhaps you ought to be thinking a bit more about what you owe God. Because you know, it is written that you shall not put the Lord your God to the test, and you just walked on up here to put Me, the Messiah, to the test.
So what now? Well, the Pharisees are left with their jaws dropped and they walk away and start to plot to kill Jesus – the Herodians are satisfied because Jesus said to pay taxes, but what of us? Where do we go from here? Let me ask you a question – so we are to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. So, what is God's stuff – what is this thing that belongs to God that is to be rendered unto him? How do we take this? Well, it is November, a traditional time of stewardship drives, so we could turn this into a render unto God more in the offering plate sermon. Ut-oh – better – check the bulletin and see if Pastor's going to make us sing “We give Thee but Thine Own”! Fear not, it is true that all that you have, including your money, is a gift from God, and that when you manage these gifts, when you designate some of them to be used in the Church for the preaching of the Word here and for our congregation's mission work, you are simply giving back to God things that already belonged to God in the first place. But relax, that's not really the fullness or point here. Be generous, but relax, I'm not going to harp on you.
No, if you want to know what belongs to God – how did Jesus determine that the denarius belonged to Caesar? “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When I look at this coin, what is it that I see, what words are these that I see? Oh, they are Caesar's likeness and Caesar's word – well, I guess this belongs to Caesar. Now, how about it – where is the likeness of God and the Word of God – what's the thing that has God's likeness and Word upon it that is to be rendered back unto God? You. You guys. Think back to creation: “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” That's you. And you know what else? What has the Word of God inscribed upon it? I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Do you see and understand what is going on here? Jesus isn't trying to shake out your pockets for loose change – He's pointing to a greater and more wondrous truth – you belong to Him. You are His.
Now, the simple fact is that we do not like to act as though we belong to God. We often forget that we bear His image and likeness, and we sin. That's what sin is – it is forgetting who you are in Christ Jesus, it is acting as though you do not belong to Him, it is not fearing, not loving, and not trusting Him above all things, but rather running after something else. And then there are times when we are brought to our senses, when we sit and look and we say, “What have I done? I can't believe I did that – why did I do that again?” We need that – we need those wake up calls otherwise we just keep carrying on in the dumbest of sin. We forget who we are sometimes, and then we see what we have done, and we feel shame and remorse and guilt and sorrow and we hang our heads – the fancy theological word is that we feel “contrition”.
Here's the thing. Even in that moment, when you see your sin before you – remember, you belong to God. Now, if you will recall, the Pharisees had buttered up Jesus to start – and they didn't really mean it, but you know what – they were right. Listen again. “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.” They were right, more than they knew. Jesus is true and teaches the way of God – in fact, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the life. And Jesus doesn't care about anyone's opinion – you know what? He doesn't care about your opinion. He doesn't care about your opinion of yourself – so if you are thinking you're all that and a bag of chips, He'll remind you that you need a Savior. And when you see your sin, and your opinion of yourself is this [an inch] high – again, He doesn't care about that. He's not swayed by appearances – He's not impressed if you are the best, most upstanding member of the Church nor shocked if you are the lowest of the low, the guiltiest of the guilty. He's not swayed by appearances. Nope. He sees the proper likeness and inscription. You are a baptized child of God; you belong to Him. Period. And He will render you back unto Himself – He will call you back unto Himself with His Word and Spirit. It's what He's doing right now. The whole reason Jesus came was to make sure that you would be His forever – that the image and likeness of God would be restored and that you would dwell in the House of the Lord forever. He Himself came and to cleanse you of your sin took it upon Himself and crucified it upon the Cross. He Himself calls you to His table and feeds you His own Body and Blood so that you would be forgiven and conformed again to His image, that you would live remembering this – because you were created to be the image and likeness of Jesus, and Jesus isn't going to let Satan and sin mess that up. And so He goes to the Temple and speaks the truth, and He lets them kill Him and He rises again so that He can say, “Yep, you there bearing My likeness, bearing My Name, bearing My Word – know now that it is a Word of life and salvation.” We see that now in part in receiving forgiveness, in being filled with His Spirit and with His love; we shall see it in full when He raises us from the dead and we see Him face to face, and we live as He lives. Indeed, as Paul says, Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus, to us, your Baptized children, that we would bear your likeness forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +