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Show me the Money

Exodus 33:12-23 or Isaiah 45:1-7

Psalm 99 or Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

First they smother him with flattery:

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere…”

“You teach the way of God in accordance with truth…”

“You show deference to no one…”

“You do not regard people with partiality…”

Every adept leader knows, when they start pouring on the charm, watch out. They are buttering you up like a turkey before Thanskgiving. Here’s some ancient wisdom: Beware of flattery:

“Whoever flatters a neighbor is spreading a net for the neighbor’s feet.” Proverbs 29:5

The manipulator showers you with praise upon praise. In leadership you’re taking shots from every side, so you take affirmation anywhere you can get it. You grow to need it, depend on it. And the first time you do something the manipulator doesn’t like, they yank the praise and replace it with scorn. If you’ve been feeding off the affirmation, it’s like a punch in the gut. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Most pastors experience it on internship or in their first call. After a while you learn to get your kudos elsewhere. Home? Friends? But even there it’s dangerous. Get in a fight with your spouse, and you’re back in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Best to grow into the place where you depend only on the strength that comes from prayer. Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. Best to depend on a vibrant spiritual life. The joy of the Lord is my strength. If you depend on the praise of others for your sense of well-being, it will fail you.

“Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart. An enemy dissembles in speaking while harbouring deceit within; when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it, for there are seven abominations concealed within; though hatred is covered with guile, the enemy’s wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on the one who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Proverbs 26:23-29)

So, with that cheerful word of warning, we dive further into the text. The Pharisees are plotting against Jesus. They send their disciples, along with the Herodians. The Pharisees are the purity party. They want the Romans out. The Herodians of course, have accepted the Roman occupation as a given and are profiting from it. It’s like sending pro-choice and pro-life people to visit a candidate together. Who can win?

Then they ask an impossible question, designed to get him into trouble, one way or the other. Eight simple words: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”

With that, the trap is set. If he says yes, he will alienate the Pharisees and all who want an overthrow of the Roman occupation. The denarius coin said “Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus” on one side and “Pontifex Maximus” (high priest) on the other. It had a graven image on it, making it idolatry. It said Caesar was the son of God. Certainly Jesus can’t condone this. If he says no, he can be arrested for treason (which is going to happen anyway). There is no way to win this one. Or is there?

This is not really about paying taxes in a Romans 13 sense. It’s about paying taxes to an occupying army. Rome is building its imperial city on the backs of the poor. Certainly Jesus must see this… this injustice!

His response, “Let me see the coin,” is brilliant. “Show me the money!” Jesus springs a trap back upon them. He apparently doesn’t even have one of these coins. 🙂 Ironically though, they do. The Pharisee’s disciples are questioning his faithfulness. What will you say about these coins so profane they are not accepted in the Temple? He asks for a coin, and someone flips him one without thinking. The crowd around smiles. Jesus does not have one of these idolatrous coins. They do.

Time for an object lesson. “Whose head is this?” It was, of course, Caesar’s head. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” The Herodians smile. The Pharisees frown. Wait… What did he say? Did he justsay to cave into the Romans and pay the tax?

But wait for it…

“…and render unto God what is God’s.”

Did he also say to give to God what belongs to God? And what belongs to God? Doesn’t everything belong to God? (Psalm 24.)

Somehow he has managed to navigate the trap and at the same time spring one on them. The text says they were all amazed. Astonished. He outwitted them. Perhaps it’s not such an easy dichotomy.

The preacher might take some time to allow people to dwell on the challenging question of what belongs to God.

Rather than just a church/state sermon, or a two-kingdoms sermon, perhaps this is a stewardship sermon. What does belong to God after all? 10%? Or 100%? If we practice “whole life” stewardship, if we truly believe it all belongs to God, what implications does that have for how we live our lives? Perhaps we give 10% to the work of the kingdom in the world, but even the 90% we “keep” belongs to God. What does it mean to be faithful not only to the 10% but also to the 90%, using it in godly ways?

Be at peace with God and with one another,