Text: Matthew 22:15-22; Preached at St Andrew Memorial Anglican, London, Ontario.
I wonder when the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians in today’s gospel reading began to realize that their question was not going to yield their desired outcome. Here they are, with Jesus cornered in the Temple, days after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem with all of the fanfare – and then his subsequent clearing of all of the money changers and vendors in the Temple. After a scene like that, no one is going to forget this man very quickly.
So they have Jesus pinned, hemmed in by questioners in the Temple – much like reporters at a press conference – and they ask him a question – one they have cleverly designed with the specific purpose of trapping him by what he said and getting him in trouble with either the Political Leadership or the Religious Leadership.
“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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (vs 16&17)
A well-crafted question that can only leave Jesus in a predicament.
Or so they thought…
The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians must have known that something was up when Jesus accused them of putting him to the test and called them hypocrites. Surely they must have felt a note of concern when he asked them to bring him the coin used for the tax. All bets should have been off when he started asking the questions – “Whose head is this? And whose title?” After all, as we have seen in the gospel readings over the last few weeks, Jesus has been specializing in making the Religious Establishment look pretty foolish.
Image is an interesting thing. It used to annoy me to no end when complete strangers would come up to me and tell me how much I resembled my mother. I knew it was a tight resemblance when a friend of the family asked why there was a portrait of me up at my mother’s memorial service: it was actually a picture of mum in her early twenties. Even a few weeks ago when we visited the parish I grew up in for the first time in over ten years, half of the church came up to say hi to me, knowing instantly to which family I belonged because of the closeness of my image to my mother’s.
Jesus’ answer is so simple – so simple that the religious folk trying to trap him probably wish they’d thought through all possible scenarios before asking their initial question.
Jesus holds up the coin and asks, “Whose head is this? Whose title?” Whose name and whose image is on this coin that you carry?
Then he answers – “Give to the emperor those things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus doesn’t say what belongs to God but leaves that wide open for us to realize the gift that we are handed.
In leaving it wide open, Jesus is making no demands upon us. It would have been really easy for him to launch into a long and detailed explanation of what is and what is not God’s. But he doesn’t do that. He merely says, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”
The things that are God’s.
The things that belong to God?
Despite the close resemblance between my mother and I, it isn’t as easy to see that family resemblance between me and others in my family. Unlike a coin, I haven’t got a family name or a family image stamped onto me. It just isn’t that obvious.
But I, like each one of us, am a child of God. Made with love and care, in God’s image. And each day has been left wide open for us to decide how each one of us will show the world whose image we bear. Not our earthly family, though that can be a lovely thing. But that we bear God’s image. That we are a part of God’s family, carrying God’s name.
It is a question to ask, maybe while lying in bed before feet hit the floor, maybe while getting dressed and ready for the day each morning: how close of a family resemblance do I have? Do you have? What can I, what can you, do to give to God that which is God’s? How will anyone know?
Because in making no demands but simply stating, “Give to God that which is God’s,” Jesus is allowing us the choice to decide for ourselves. And I, like each one of us, get to respond each and every day and decide what to do with that which bears God’s image.