Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” What no one has said is that you have to like paying taxes. Indeed, if there is anything we can agree on, it’s that we would rather not pay taxes at all. Taxes, however, are as old as government itself. They are nothing new. Yet, the purpose for which different governments collect taxes have raised opposition to Christians throughout time. For this is the exact question which Jesus is asked in our Gospel reading, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). On the one hand, the Jews despised paying taxes to Caesar. A ruler that claims to be god. A nation that is corrupt and sinful. Tax money that is used for things against God’s will. How can we possibly support that? On the other hand, the Herodians are buddy-buddy with the Romans. Without the Romans, Herod and his gang lose all their power and prestige. So, which is it? Pay taxes to Caesar or not? A trick question… a trap for Jesus. But Jesus knows. So, he asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (Matthew 22:20). It’s Caesar’s of course! What’s the issue? You know how this goes. If it belongs to Caesar, give it to Caesar!
But, is that it? Is Jesus just telling us to pay our taxes? Indeed, if we stopped there, we would have a very narrow view. When it comes to money, this is easy to see. Caesar’s face… Caesar’s name… it’s Caesar’s! But Jesus didn’t stop there. “Render to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). What things are God’s? God instructs us about our tithe. Ten percent is to be used for His Church. Think of it almost like a God tax! (On second thought, maybe not!) So, we give some things to Caesar and some things to God, right? Make sure you set aside enough for Caesar and enough for God and everything will be golden!
Yet, if this is all Jesus says, again this is a very narrow view. So, what does it mean to “render to God the things of God”? It means that we return to God everything that is His. For everything belongs to God. God created the land and the sea, the trees, and animals; He created you and me. But how do we return these things to God? Well, we can’t. Not only is everything already God’s, but we have squandered the very things of God. His image, his holiness, his goodness, and his name. We have nothing left to give to God. But this is the great mystery, the good news. God renders us to himself. He reconciles us to himself through Jesus Christ. Yes, the Son of God, the image and inscription of God came to us, died for us, and rose for us! By Jesus’ death and resurrection, God now forms you into the image and likeness of His Son. He gives you his name. He reclaims you as his own. So how much more shall we praise God? For this is our offering to God, our rendering the “things of God”… Praise be to God through Jesus Christ! Amen!
O God, the protector of all who trust in You, have mercy on us that with You as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.