It’s All God’s
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 18, 2020
20th Sunday after Pentecost
You gotta love Jesus! Well, of course you have to love Jesus—I mean if you’re a believer—if you’ve been baptized—if you know him as the Christ who entered the world to set things right—of course, you love Jesus. But I am not talking about Jesus, the Divine Son of God. I am talking about Jesus, the human, Jesus the person. Without a doubt, he is an extraordinary man. He loves boldly and shows kindness at every opportunity. He is angered when the poor and downtrodden are mistreated. He is compassionate toward children and others whom society disregards. He is a sage—wise beyond his years.
A study of Jesus as a man would not be complete, I would argue, without considering his sense of humor. Yes, Jesus has a sense of humor. There is too much evidence to believe otherwise. Think about it: Much of Jesus’ life is about joy. At the wedding in Cana, he turns water into wine—to help the family save face—but also to ensure that everyone has a good time. One writer notes, “The Gospels reveal Jesus as a man with a palpable sense of joy and even playfulness. You can catch glimpses of this in His interactions with the men, women and children of His time as well as in many of the parables.”[i]
While Jesus is a joyful man and a good friend—he is also a man of great intelligence—whose brilliance never shines brighter than when he is outsmarting his opponents. And in today’s gospel reading, his opponents come in a most unusual pairing—Pharisees and Herodians. The Herodians, as their name suggests, are Jewish allies of Herod Antipas—so they support paying of taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are committed to the Jewish law down to the letter—so they oppose paying taxes to Caesar on religious grounds.[ii] Despite their differences, however, here stand Pharisees and Herodians—those who favor Rome and those who do not—united against a common cause—united against Jesus—and armed with a highly charged political question.
But first, they lay the groundwork, attempting to put Jesus off-guard—pretending they are something they are not. “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?”
Jesus was not born yesterday. He sees straight through them—straight to their heart and soul. Not one to mince words, Jesus responds, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” Isn’t it peculiar how these pretenders, bent on trapping Jesus, speak the truth even in their ignorance? Jesus is sincere. Jesus does teach the way of God in accordance with the truth and Jesus shows no partiality.
“Show me the coin used for the tax,” Jesus says. And there in broad daylight, they hand over a coin. On one side, there’s an image of the emperor—and on the other, words claiming the emperor’s divinity. Therefore, what these religious leaders hand Jesus is nothing less than a graven image, banned in the commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” Even though, the Pharisees are opposed to having in their possession any sort of graven image, someone has a coin in his pocket!
At this point, I imagine you can hear a pin drop. Will Jesus take the bait? If Jesus answers no, he is in trouble with the Roman authorities, and a quick trip to Pilate will set things straight. If Jesus answers yes, he is in trouble with many of his own followers. He is between a rock and a hard place, but with Jesus, that’s when things get interesting. Looking at the coin, Jesus calmly inquires, “Whose head is this and whose title?”
By now, the disciples of Jesus may be feeling a little nervous. The Pharisees and Herodians are filled with anticipation, surely thinking, “We’ve got him now. He’ll never get out of this one.” They couldn’t be more wrong for in the blink of an eye, the tables turn, when Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are Gods.” With a simple coin and a simple sentence, Jesus avoids the trap of the Pharisees and the Herodians, but he does more than that. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, there are other layers of meaning for us to grasp.
In 1st Century Palestine, the denarius represents the dictating powers of Rome and their annual taxation, which is administered by the Jewish authorities. In his response, Jesus allows room for Caesar, for the emperor, for governing bodies. But that is not the end of the story because he adds, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Nothing could be clearer. “The earth is the lords and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.” All things belong to God. The realm of politics is always subservient to God so the emperor, the king, the governor, the president—they hold no power other than what is on loan to them.
Then there is the issue of money itself. It is something about which Jesus holds strong opinions. In fact, it has been said that Jesus teaches more about money than any other topic. You remember his admonition, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[iii] At the end of the day, the things in heaven and the things on the earth—it’s all God’s. All of creation! Nothing we own is truly ours—it is all on loan, which begs the question, “How well are we taking care of God’s possessions?”
And if we are talking about what belongs to God, we must include ourselves for in Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We are made in God’s image and baptism marks us as God’s very own. We are God’s currency. How are we spending ourselves on God’s behalf?
While Jesus is surely wise, witty, and wonderful, it is another personality trait that is captured my attention this week—his courage. Jesus is brave beyond measure. He is not afraid that if he fails to play the games of the world, he might lose his status. He does not care if people criticize him. Even the religious rulers who think they hold all the power, fail to intimidate Jesus. Why? Because from the day of his baptism, when Jesus is anointed by God’s Spirit, he becomes a man on a mission. From that moment, nothing deters him from doing the will of his Abba Father. An inner awareness of who he is and whose he is shapes Jesus’ interactions with everyone he meets—even those who oppose him—even those who will, ultimately, crucify him.
Autumn is upon us and with it comes the Stewardship Season of the church. Though things are different this year because of a global pandemic, still, we are responsible for the financial well-being of our congregation. Still, we are called to pray and ponder what our contribution to the Lord will be in the coming year. Still, we renew our intent to contribute our God-given time, our God-given talents, and our God-given treasures to make a difference for Jesus inside the walls of our church and beyond them. We are the body of Christ in this time and this place and we all have something to offer. What shall we bring?
It is an honor and a joy to be a follower of Christ our Savior. Day by day, may we yearn to be more like him. In his earthly ministry, he demonstrates radical hospitality and generosity. Jesus gives of his time—even when the crowds are so thick, he has to get into a boat to teach them. Jesus gives of his talents—a healer, a sage, a teacher, a multiplier of fish and bread. And Jesus gives of his treasures—not the emperor’s coin but something of much greater value. Jesus gives his life! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] James Martin, S.J. @http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/28558-jesus-was-funnier-than-we-think
[ii] Feasting on the Word, 191.
[iii] Matt. 6:19-21
*Cover Art via Unsplash, used with permission