Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church


Matthew 22:15-22

There's a cute little jingle I've seen occasionally on bumper stickers… I owe, I owe… it's off to work I go! … and isn't it the truth. Probably the most painful bill we all owe is our annual income tax. President Reagan once said that the taxpayer is someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take a civil service examination. There's a joke about taxes being one of the "sure" things in life. We all know that we are going to have to pay it whether we like it or not! Come to think of it… I don't believe I know anyone who does like it!

Well… the Jewish people of Jesus' day didn't like it either… and probably with good reason. You see they were a captive nation… they could no longer call the land their own… because Palestine at that time was occupied by Roman forces… and they were forced to pay taxes to Rome. It was a complicated political situation in which they really had no choice… they had to pay the Roman tax in Roman money.

But the real point of our story today is that the religious leaders were trying to discredit Jesus… trying to get him to say something that would be considered treasonous… either to God or to Rome. The question was… "Should we pay taxes to Rome?" If he said "yes" the Pharisees would say he was dishonoring God… the only King they recognized… and if he said "no" he would be in defiance of the Roman rulers! It was a trick question… a double-edged sword… a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation. Either way he answered… Jesus could not win! Or so they thought!

I suppose we could talk more about why they wanted to trick or discredit Jesus. It is certainly hard to imagine how the religious leaders… with all their apparent power… could feel so threatened by a carpenter turned itinerate teacher… who apparently owned nothing… who wondered around the country side talking to the riff-raff. But the truth is he spoke with great authority… and he pulled no punches. The religious leaders were not threatened so much by the man as they were by the truth he spoke… the truth about themselves… about their motives… about their pride… about their way of life. They had somehow to bring this man down… and this is only one of many occasions when they tried to do so!

Jesus understood that he was being tested… that the religious leaders were trying to trick him… and he knew exactly how to respond. Have you ever noticed how often Jesus answers a question with a question? True to form he calls their bluff… … he calls a spade a spade when he addresses them as "You hypocrites" and then he asks, "Why are you trying to trick me?" I guess he could have stopped right there… and left them stewing in their juices… but it was a teaching moment… and he had something more important to say. You might say he made good use of a tricky situation!

As interesting and controversial as the subject of taxes may be… I don't believe that paying taxes is the main point of this story. In this world we will always have taxes with us… we will always have a government of some sort that we will be expected to support. Some of them will be good… providing us with services we need… and some of them will be bad… taking advantage of their power over us. Government and taxes we shall always have with us and paying taxes is a way of life that we have to deal with.

We could talk this morning about the relationship we as Christians should have to the state. But that's a subject that is touched on in other texts such as I Peter 2:11 where we read:

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him...

We could talk about debts… and our responsibility as Christians and good citizens to honor them when we have been so foolish as to incur them. Paul tells us in Romans 13:7:

Give everyone what you owe him…

We could talk this morning about idols… that's something there is plenty of in our world. A couple of Sundays ago we talked about the idol made by Arron in the desert when the Hebrews demanded a god they could see… even thought they knew that God is invisible to the human eye… and that he takes great offense at any attempt on our part to create an image of him in any way shape or form.

In our story Jesus asks for a denarius… the Roman coin used to pay taxes to Rome. The denarius had a picture of Caesar… the Roman ruler… on it. Not only did the coin remind the Jews of their situation… they also considered the coin an idol. During the era of the Roman Empire, Caesars considered themselves divine… and their picture on the coin of the realm was offensive to Jews who were forbidden to honor idols. Since the Roman government had manufactured the coin… and it was Caesar's picture on the face of the coin… representing his Caesar's power and authority here on earth, in a very real sense the coin did belong to Caesar.

Be that as it may… the answer given by Jesus amazes the religious leaders because it reminds them that all things belong to God. And so it should remind us once again this morning about what is important in our lives… and what is not. We are first and foremost citizens of God's kingdom and that requires our pledge to honor and love God with our hearts… our souls… and our minds… and that's just another way of saying that everything we have belongs to God.

Are you willing to make that commitment? Are you willing to give to God what is God's? We are not talking about money here… the coin of the realm belongs to the realm. We are talking about your whole self… your hopes… your dreams… your gifts and talents… your time and commitment… your body and your soul… everything you hold most dear in this life. Martin Luther once said,

"I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess."
Are you willing to give God his due? Amen.

A Sermon Preached on October 17, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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