Pentecost 19, 2014
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
During World War I, while America was at war with Germany, Lutheran churches and pastors here in the U.S. were under suspicion of sympathizing with the Vaterland. The U.S. government kept a close eye on them to see if they were loyal American citizens or not. This is the reason that the American flag came to be used in the chancel areas of Lutheran churches here in the U.S. They were placed there because the congregations wanted people to know that they were loyal to America even though they used German in their worship services.
Well, on one Sunday morning in one of these American Lutheran churches where German was still being used, the text for the sermon that day was this very text that we have before us: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." There also happened to be sitting in the congregation that morning a couple of U.S. government officials. It was unfortunate for the pastor, that the German translation of this text read, "So gebt dem Kaiser, was des Kaisers ist, und Gott, was Gottes ist." "Give to the Kaiser what is the Kaiser's, and to God what is God's." Shortly after the service the pastor was arrested and taken away to be interrogated. The pastor was entrapped by the German word used to translate the word Caesar.
Entrapment. According to Webster's dictionary: it is the illegal act of tricking someone into committing a crime so that the person you have tricked can be arrested. This is precisely what the Pharisees had hoped for. They despised Jesus so much that they would use some of their worst enemies, the followers of the wicked King Herod, to entrap Jesus so that the people would either despise him or the Herodians would arrest him.
"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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matthew 22:15-17)
It seems like a harmless enough question, but this is one of those “no right answer” questions. You see, for the Jews who saw themselves as free people under the tyranny of the Roman government, paying taxes to Caesar who claimed to be a god was not right. Why should God's people pay taxes to a pagan government? Did this not go against God's Law? If Jesus answered 'Yes' to the question, the Jewish people would turn against Him. On the other hand, if He said 'No, it isn't right to pay taxes to Caesar,' then He would be branded as a revolutionary, a threat to the government, and Jesus would be reported to the Roman authorities to be arrested and killed.
"But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away." (Matthew 22:18-22)
He asks them to show Him a denarius, the coin used in paying the tax to Caesar. Amazingly, they have such a coin. Jesus then asks them whose image, and whose inscription is on the coin. The image on the coin was Caesar's. The inscription read, "Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus." The fact that the coin designated Caesar as divine brings it into the realm of idolatry. Did the Pharisees think that using such a coin for everyday commerce was okay, but paying taxes with it was idolatry, supporting a pagan government? The fact that they have the coin on hand to show Jesus exposes their hypocrisy.
"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." What does it mean to give to Caesar what is Caesar's? "We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise our parents or powers nor provoke them to anger, but give them honor, serve and obey them, and hold them in love and esteem." Luther’s explanation to the 4th commandment in the Catechism.
Pay your taxes. Obey good laws. Work to change things that are contrary to God's will. Give thanks for good government. Vote according to your conscience. Serve your neighbor. Pray for your leaders. Remember that God is both Lord of the Church and God of all creation. ALL CREATION.
As the Pharisees learned. Jesus could not be entrapped. Ultimately they would get what they were seeking: Jesus dying on the cross. But Jesus would not go to the cross because He broke the law, caused an offense, or sinned. Jesus would go to the cross voluntarily and out of love to save sinners.
Give to God what is God's. What is it that we can give to God? Everything was created by God...and thus everything belongs to God. Each and every one of you belongs to God as well...for you were purchased for a great price...the price of Jesus death. So what can we give God?
We give Him thanks and praise. Through faith in Christ Jesus we are no longer trapped in sin, but free to be His people. We are free to be His tools in proclaiming His death and resurrection. We are free to share His love with a world that desperately needs it. We are free to share the hope that we have. We are free (and this is for our youth that were here last night) to be beacons of light on a hill sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ who is the light of the world. So "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)
What a blessing it is...that in giving God what belongs to Him...we get to share the love of Christ with the world. We get to share the love of Christ with those we love so dear...so that they might have faith in Jesus, be heirs of life eternal in paradise, and give glory to God. We give to God what belongs to Him by sharing His love to the world. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.