"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, FL
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
our gospel for this Sunday
To Render, or Not to Render
That is the question! Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.
We continue this Sunday with the parables of Jesus, this time with the temple leadership trying to trick him into giving them an answer that would either show he was a tax cheat (if he says not to pay taxes to Caesar), or that he was selling out his Jewish community if he does say to pay your taxes to Caesar. Either way, he can't win, it seems. But, it's Jesus we're talking about after all, and as is so often the case, Jesus finds a third way - a way that answers the question here, without directly answering the question. And he gives them his famous answer, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." The text says that the Pharisees were "amazed", but other translations call it something like baffled, or confused, by his answer.
So, how are we, as Christians supposed to address this very same question posed by the Pharisees? What if we don't like the way our taxes are being spent? Should we not pay our taxes, as Christians? What if our taxes were going directly into the pockets of those who are writing the tax laws? Are we, as Chrisitans, obliged to refuse to pay our taxes and call our lawmakers to account? When is it justified not to pay our taxes to the state? Can the state and religion peacefully coexist, so that the state can do what it's supposed to do, and religion does what it's supposed to to? All, good questions, and I'm sure, ones we've asked ourselves at some point in time. How do you feel about it all?
The preacher has lots of options on preaching this text, in my opinion. One thing that comes to my mind, and where I'll likely head on Sunday, is this "third way" if you will - the state and the church do their own thing, and peacefully (most times) coexist. One thing's for certain here, though, in our gospel for Sunday, that paying taxes to Rome, who was an occupier in the Jewish world then (Israel, although it wasn't formally a nation then, but a "people), was particularly troubling for them.
Why, you ask? Because if you looked on any coin in the Roman Empire in the time of Jesus, whose face would you have seen on it/them? Right. Caesar's. And the inscription on the back of it would have read something like, "Caesar, the Divine Son of God", or something similar. But Caesar, and his kin, all claimed to be divine, the Son of God. This title would have been highly offensive to any good Jew at the time, because they knew only one God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of Israel. The one God. So paying taxes to this guy who claimed to be divine, the son of God, would have been hard to stomach.
So, I'm likely to direct my message toward this third way, showing ways that our church - the ELCA, works within the confines of "the state" if you will - the government, to do the work that the state isn't particularly good at. Things like advocacy for the poor; working for the assurance of a liveable wage for all workers; assisting migrants and others coming to America looking for a new life; finding an end to poverty; education; and so much more. If you want some real life examples of your church's work in the world, just go to the website, www.elca.org and click on the "Our Work" tab at the top of the home page, and you'll see many examples of how the church works in its way, with and without the government, to do good for us all. It's truly amazing!
Yes, we pay our taxes (or we should pay our taxes), even though we often hold our noses while doing it. Yes, we adhere to the laws of the land, even though some of them seem unfair to certain groups. Yes, we vote, protest when necessary, and otherwise participate in the "state". But we also are the church of Jesus Christ. Our world is a world of grace, and forgiveness, and love. And our God is not a god who wants to be served, but is a god who, in Jesus Christ, came to serve as a sacrifice for us. I can't imagine many public servants or lawmakers willing to do that!
So, pay your taxes. Follow the laws of the land. But give thanks to God, for God alone is holy. God alone is to be praised. God alone is our light and our life. Amen? Amen.
"Love Lifted Me"
"Give to Our God Immortal Praise"