‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ Matthew 22:21
This morning we turn our attention to our Gospel reading, picking up where we left off last week in chapter 22 of Matthew’s biography of Jesus. The Pharisees—the religious leaders of their day—are furious with Jesus after realising that Jesus is criticising them in the Parable of the Banquet which we thought about last Sunday. So now they want to bring Him down, by, we’re told, ‘trapping Him in His words’. At the time there was great debate amongst the Jewish people about whether or not they should pay taxes to the Romans who were occupying them. King Herod’s men—who were backed by the Romans—said the people should pay tax; the Pharisees said that they shouldn’t. The Pharisees come up with a simple plan: to ask Jesus whether they should pay tax in front of themselves and the Herodians. Whichever answer He gave—they calculated—He would fall foul of someone. Jesus would either become unpopular with the people for saying the people should pay tax, or the state authorities for saying that people shouldn’t. Look with me at verse 16: ‘[The Pharisees] sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’’.’Ha-ha,’ think the Pharisees ‘Gotcha’. However, today is not their day, for Jesus knows their game. Verse 19: ‘[Jesus said] Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’.’ Their trap falls short, because they have forgotten something very basic: whose family they are in.
One of the lovely parts of having a baby was the number of people who immediately said that Amelie, my daughter, looked just like me. Well nice for me, I’m not sure about for Amelie! Certainly she has some of my characteristics: blonde hair, blue eyes, and sense of mischief. She looks like me and in some ways she acts like me, and, of course, this holds true for other biological families; indeed so true, that they even made a game about it. Growing up I played ‘Happy Families’ card game, and the basic premise—for those who’ve never played it—is to match family members. For instance Miss Baker belongs to the Baker family; she looks like and acts like Mr Baker, Mrs Baker, and Master Baker. To win you need to collect more families than everyone else, by identifying family traits. However, if the Pharisees and Herodians ever played this game they would have been rubbish at it, and Jesus schools them in some very simple logic which even primary school kids can manage, and goes something like this: We are made in the image of our family; in other words, we are made in God’s likeness. We are children of God the Father, we are—as it were—like Master God or Miss God; we’re made in God’s image we’re made to be like Him; and like belongs to like. The coin produced for Jesus—like the coin which would be used to pay taxes—is made in the likeness of Caesar, and so belongs to him. However, human beings are made in the likeness of God and so belong to Him. It is simple and straight forward, and yet how often we forget this basic point. So often people get confused about their identity. We—all of us—get confused about whose image we bear, whose family we should be a part of, as shown in the Pharisees’ question. To stick to our Happy Families analogy—though we were made to be part of God’s family—we often start to think we actual belong to the Job family, or the Money family, or the Pleasure family. We think we belong to the world, we think we’re made in the image of the stuff all around us, when, if we only looked closely, we would see that, we rightly belong to the family of God. Subconsciously at least—like the Herodians—we think that we belong to the world, that we’re part of it’s family, and we’ll be happy only when we act like everyone else. However, nothing could be further from the truth, only those who realise which family they should belong to will ever find their true joy, their true vocation, their true home. This is what becoming a Christian at its simplest is all about: finding which family we were made to be part of. To be part of the Happy Family of God is to finally come home.
However, even for those who realise they actually belong to another family, to God’s family, there is often still an issue shown in the confusion of the Pharisees who claim to belong to God’s family. The Pharisees’ mistake—and many Christians’ mistake up and down the years—is thinking that because we belong to God, that we should leave the world behind and not involve ourselves in its life. This is a mistake because these people—who known they belong God’s family—have forgotten that to be in His family means they are required to act like Him; to act like the God who is not distant from the world, but intimately involved at every level! To join God’s family—in whose image we are made—is not just to take His name, but to start acting as He acts. To complete the analogy, Miss Baker is only fully part of the family when she not only accepts her surname, but also starts acting like her family, and baking bread. So, if I may, I’m going to add a family to the Happy Families game: Mr & Mrs Sailer. The Sailer family love being on the water and spending their time on the lifeboat; to be a member of the Sailer family is to be out on the lifeboat saving those who are in trouble at sea. To merely claim the name ‘Sailer’ would not make them A full member of the family; being a full member of the lifeboat family involves working to save lives. That is what is called for from those who recognise whose they are and rightly claim to be made in God’s image. We are not to merely claim the to be ‘Christian’, but along with God—the Father of the family—to be actively involved in the world working for its benefit and rescuing those in need of help. It has been said of some Christians that they are so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly use. Such a person, like the Pharisees have missed their vocation, their purpose in being part of the family. They may have recognised in whose image they are made but they are failing to live that image out in their lives. If we have not yet chosen the Christian family then our Gospel reading challenges us to give up living like Herodians; to realise in whose image we are made and to finally come home to the family to which we always meant to belong. And—if we claim the to be Christians already—then, like the lifeboat in the introduction, we are to be out on the seas calling on those in the cruise liner—which is the world—to realise their real situation and to abandon their doomed vessel for the lifeboat of the Church. We may not all be the like the Captain speaking from the pulpit or through the loud hailer, but nevertheless we are by our actions through our time, talents, and money to be like those, who—as it were—are maintaining the life boat engine, or throwing out lifelines to those in the water, or feeding those rescued from the water, or the million and one tasks involved in rescuing souls lost at sea.
Brothers and sisters, we are not to be so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly use; nor are we to be so focused on the world that we forget in whose image we have been made. Rather, knowing whose we are, knowing in whose family we belong, we are out with the family serving and saving the world. We are, as Jesus said, to: ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’. Amen. (from Fr Mike).