The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity - Reflection

‘[Jesus said ‘Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.'   Matthew 22:19-22

Politics has returned with full force. Turn on the news and you will find politicians divided. For a while it seemed that a common enemy might have brought the warring sides together. Brexit fell off the front pages. The government and the opposition voted the same way on Corona-virus legislation. Harmony of a sort, seemed to come to Westminster in the face of a common threat. But, almost as if to coincide with the first leaves falling in Autumn, division and argument is back. Even COVID is becoming politicised as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition advocate different ways to deal with the virus. If we were tempted to think that division and political differences are a modern phenomenon, our passage today should cause us to think again. The Israel of the first century was - in this regard -  just the same as the Britain of the twenty-first century. And through the encounter in the Gospel, Jesus challenges us ALL to get our priorities right.

In our passage this morning we see political divisions just as we do in our own day. Remember, the Romans had marched into Israel and had occupied the country. And now they were charging the Israelites taxes for the privilege. This left the Jewish leadership divided. On the one side there were the traditionalists. Those who want to take back control of their country, and end the payment of taxes to Caesar! On the other side, are the Herodians who are satisfied with the current settlement and don’t want anyone to rock the boat and have the Romans impose direct rule. The political arguments had gone on for decades, with both sides fighting each other, and forcing the people to pick a team. But now something shocking has happened, verse 15:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians’.

They are sending a united delegation to Jesus. What has caused this working together is the threat of a common enemy! Jesus is a challenge to both sides! A challenge to such an extent, that these enemies end up working together! Jesus threatens the religious conservative Pharisees because the religious Jews are starting to follow Him. Jesus threatens the Herodians as He is saying that He is the promised Jewish King, and this worries them as the Romans might send in the troops. Whichever side you’re on, Jesus can not be allowed to continue, and with this unique challenge political enemies come together. They think they have a pretty decent strategy, get Jesus to talk about taxes! He is going to have to come down on one side or the other. Whichever side He picks, the other side will destroy Him. Neither side care which Jesus picks, they just want Jesus gone! v17: 

'Tell us, then, what you think [Jesus]. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 

You can see them sitting back smug and ready to watch the upstart rabbi squirm. But v19, Jesus says:

'Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

With this answer Jesus blows both sides away. In effect He says, ‘This coin is designed to look like the emperor, so give what is his back to him’. And then it is as if Jesus points to a human being and says: ‘And this human being, - and every human being - was made by God to look like Him. Each person was made in God’s image so give back to God what belongs to Him’. Both sides are floored. In effect Jesus says ‘Both of you have taken something else and made it your god. One of you has made POWER your god, and one of you has made MONEY your god!’ Both of you should have a god, both of you should worship something, but it’s not money or power it’s the God of the universe. Get your priorities sorted!’ What was true then, is true today! Jesus challenges us to get our priorities in order. Like with kids stacking cups, get the cups in the right order, with the right priority and there is no problem. But get the cups wrong, get the priorities in the wrong order and all will eventually come crashing down. Every person worships something! Every person gives their top priority to something! And what has gone wrong for Jesus’ enemies is that they have started worshipping the wrong thing. They all have their priorities the wrong way round. Prioritise God, worship Him, and let love for Him, direct your life, and inform your other priorities. You can tell a person’s priorities by looking at their life. I wonder what would stand out as my priority; I wonder what would stand out as yours. If we confess the Christian faith, then let us take up Jesus’ challenge, put our priorities in order, making God our top priority and: ‘Give to the world the things that are the world’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’  Amen.  (from Rev. Mike)