October 18, 2020
The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
(Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Matthew 22:15-21)
There is at least one word in the English language that has the power to elect politicians to high office, finance battleships, cause economic hardship, and get you to pull hair out of your head – if you have any hair to pull. One word. Wars have been fought over this word, nations established, and people sent to jail for not taking heed when this word was spoken. The word is taxes!
We have all heard the saying, that are only two things that we can be certain of in life, and they are death and taxes. As Christians, we know that Jesus conquered the first. But what of the second odious one we face? The Gospel seems to indicate that we are on our own and that Jesus expects us to pay. “Render therefore to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s,” says Jesus, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Had Matthew who wrote this Gospel and happened to have been a tax collector, been whispering in Jesus’ ear?
One might ask, just who started these taxes anyway? I suspect since nearly the beginning of human inhabitants on the planet, there has been some sort of taxation. Of course, they were not part of God’s order of things. Nowhere in Genesis do we read “and God levied taxes on Adam and Eve, and He saw that it was good.” Nor was Moses given a tablet of stone with the inscription, “Thou shalt pay taxes.” Taxes were levied and taxes were collected, but from the beginning they were a human invention for the necessity of human rulers, the building of temporal roads (with lots of potholes) and aqueducts, and the financing of battles of the flesh, not of the spirit. We never could seem to get along, and one wonders why our nation is in turmoil?! Anyway, back to the topic ….
Yet, God has always required a rightful share for the work of God’s dominion. The first fruits of every harvest were set aside by the early people of Israel for the Lord. (Does God even need to eat?? If He doesn’t, I would say that He is missing out on all these great fruits He created.) Even a temple tax was established and gathered by the priests for the maintenance of the religion. (I bet you thought that was just a modern invention by priests?) Is all this why Jesus seems to support taxes?
Maybe it has something to do with His birth. As God would have it, seemingly not coincidental, the Savior of the world was born where He was born because of a decree issued by Cesar Augustus “that all the world should be taxed (Luke 2:1).” If God wanted to be certain to enter the world clearly at its center, there could be no better time than at the taking of a census for the purposes of taxation. (Of course, our government posits that it is for proper representation, but I think it is taxes! After all, they must play golf!) Joseph went to be enrolled with Mary, and thus obedient subjects of Roman rule place the Christ child’s birth where God ordained and the prophets of old have promised: in Bethlehem.
Our Gospel lesson picks up where the enrollment left off, with a conversation some thirty years later that all three of the synoptic gospels record, suggesting just how significant it was. On the surface, we have a simple story. A plan devised by the Pharisees and Herodians would trap the popular rabbi from galilee. (The collaboration of the Pharisees and Herodians – representing opposite political views [something we wouldn’t know about in the modern age, would we??!!] – reveals the extreme measures taken to eliminate Jesus.) Should Jesus advise paying taxes, many Jews would consider Him a collaborator to the Roman powers. But, non-payment would be dangerous, since followers of Herod would accuse Him of sedition.
With a coin, Jesus appears to foil His enemies on both sides. Taxes are for Cesar, but those imprinted with God’s image are for God. In one master stroke, Jesus is saved from both pious accusation and political self-incrimination.
But, for those who would hear it, the Man for Others is not interested in a crafty escape from the hands of His foes. He is mindful rather of their escape from the snares of this world. As our Lord reveals again and again in His life and words, His is not a preoccupation with self but with the life of His listener. He is forever waiting and watchful for the moments of grace when He can restore us to our rightful relationship with our Creator.
The master teacher does this skillfully wherever He finds us, revealing the eternal life that is ours in the simple things of each day’s journey, be it birds in the air, wandering sheep, or kernels of grain. He lifts them up and reveals their secrets, for in them are hidden all the answers we seek. He points to rocky soil, a city on a hill, or a fisherman’s net and tells us who we are or what we can become. And today, He does it with the Roman forged coin of a day’s wage.
“Show me the money of the tax,” He says. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” “Cesar’s” they reply. “Render therefore Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Our Lord isn’t telling us what we already know, that our taxes ought to be paid. He is not telling us that payment to God is due. He is revealing to us who we are, what we are, and what can be with a coin. This is what we work for. We have come to believe that this coin is the measure of our value, the symbol of our worth.
But the true measure of value has to do with the likeness and inscription borne on our bodies and souls. As Cesar cast the denarius in his image, God has cast each of us in God’s image. All people, not merely those of specific criteria. As Cesar sends out as wage and calls back in tax, God also sends out the bearers of God’s likeness to be the golden coinage of a heavenly realm. But God also calls us back, demanding for God’s own self the sum of our lives.
Jesus is gatherer of this tax, God’s collector of souls stamped with the Divine image and inscribed with God’s name. Come to me, He says. By your following, you will find your true self. In My words I will show you the way to the One who has made you. On My cross I will settle your debts. Lost coins are we all, and in Jesus has God invited us back to the eternal treasury.
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us of our obligation to pay our fair share to ensure we have good government and that those less well off in our country are properly cared for. We pray that all in our society be honest and responsible in their affairs and fairly meet their obligations as citizens. We pray to the Lord.
That we realize we aren’t “owners” of anything but merely “stewards” of the gifts God has given us. We pray to the Lord.
We pray that we, as followers of Christ, recognize that we are missionaries and must promote His message with friends, family and neighbors through our words and actions. We pray to the Lord.
That the church may find ways to both preach the word and serve our neighbor, especially during this time of separation and crisis. We pray to the Lord.
For all who are on the frontlines of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially our health care workers and first responders, for all who are unable to stay at home, but must work to provide for their families, may God continue to protect them and keep them in good health. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may receive swift answers to their needs and that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Holy God, you are deserving of the very best we have to offer -- the devotion of our hearts, the place of honor in our priorities and the first fruits of our labors. We enter this place and space of worship, asking you to be in our midst, to speak your message of love and mercy, conviction and challenge to us. We welcome your Spirit, knowing that in so doing, we abandon control and open ourselves in faith and trust to your purposes and plan, rather than our own. Come, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we pray and may our worship be acceptable in your sight. We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA
We are beggars – These turbulent times are economically difficult for many, and as such, non-profits see reductions of donations to keep ministries open. We ask, if you are able, to donate and help us keep our progressive voice active in our community. God Bless You +++