Give to Caesar
‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’: Matt 22:15-22
Invite the question: ‘Does anyone have in their pocket a 20p coin please, I need it for my sermon?’
Time the length it takes for it to be placed on my hand. ( Chat while timing about denarius….its equiv 30/40p today, sometimes called a silver coin, a penny, day’s wages for a Roman soldier.) Give time -------- seconds.
In our New Testament lesson today, we read of the affection and welcome being shown in a letter to the church at Thessalonica, from Paul, Timothy and Silas.
The letter is brimful of praise and encouragement. The believers there had been part of a church plant. They had taken the message of the gospel straight to their hearts, they had been able to grasp some fairly difficult concepts immediately and they are congratulated for their efforts and for their strong faith and their endurance, even though there are one or two adjustments Paul wants to make later on in the letter.
There’s not such a welcome from the Pharisees however in our gospel reading. Jesus is about to walk straight into a trap, carefully set up and carefully choreographed by the leaders of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees, we are told, laid their plans carefully, to trap Jesus, IN HIS WORDS.
There were two parts to their plan. SET HIM UP / NAIL HIM
First they had to spot his weakness. They had obviously heard Jesus teaching others, and they had perceived what they thought was a weakness in his character i.e.he was free and bold in speaking his mind.
1) So get the right question, where Jesus’ answer would prove to be so controversial as to cause a riot, then this would bring about his downfall and humiliation.
The question they chose, which was one of the hottest topic at that time, was whether or not the Jewish people should pay tribute money i.e. taxes to Caesar or not. The coin that was used to pay the tax, a denarius, had the head of the emperor Tiberius, stamped on it, and it also bore an inscription ascribing to the divinity of the emperor. The sight of his graven image was an abomination to the Jews.
2) Then they would set up the right kind of witnesses to judge his response. Obviously it would have to be a public place where the Jewish people were to be found, perhaps the temple grounds…
but they would also make sure…the Herodians were there.
It was the job of the Herodians then, to ensure that the Jewish people paid their taxes; it was their job to persuade the people to pay their taxes to the Romans and reconcile the people to that government. This is what their king Herod Antipas wanted, and that’s what they wanted. Of course the Pharisees had gone along with this but they found the whole matter inconvenient and distasteful to say the least.
So they worded their question,
Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Ideal!
If Jesus were to answer, “Yes, pay them,” this would have offended the people, and would have shown him to be a false leader, and led to his public humiliation.
And if Jesus were to reply, “Don’t pay,” the Herodians would have reported his treason to the Romans, who would have arrested him.
Finally the Pharisees needed to enlist people they could trust to do their dirty work for them, while they stood back, just in case their plans went wrong. The chosen people had to look like learners, asking a genuine question. So the Pharisees sent their own disciples, to put the all important question to Jesus.
And so they set their trap and waited.
Everything went according to plan. The disciples used flattery and praise, trying perhaps at first, to appeal to his pride, should there be any there. Then they slipped in their million dollar question.
It’s interesting that Jesus did three things.
Firstly he discerned what was in their hearts, he looked beyond the enquirers, to the hypocrisy of their leaders, and he recognised the evil intent in their question.
Secondly he asked for a denarius, and asked whose head it was upon the coin.
Thirdly he spoke words of great wisdom to them…….
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” ‘let him have his coins’
The Herodians were actually pleased with this reply.
“… and give to God what is God’s !” …‘let him have his share of you’ in other words…the Jews could not fault this reply.
All of a sudden the Pharisees found the bait had gone from their trap, and their victim was untouched. Their servants were astonished. HERE INDEED WAS A SUPERMIND!…. and they left him and went away. Note they did not follow, they went away….
I don’t know about you, but I believe that in our lives today as Christians, there are still many traps around facing us, which could be turned into opportunities for outreach.
There are many testing situations where our faith is seriously challenged, where we need to be wise like serpents and gentle like lambs.
There are many tempting and subtle voices, and images, which appeal to our pride, or to our sinful natures, so that we will be led astray or come a cropper... and in Jesus reaction to the Pharisees, we have just been shown three ways as to how to avoid traps such as these.
1) To pray for the gift of discernment, recognising, the accusation or the confrontation or the temptation for what it is.
There is a saying, A TEMPTATION PERCEIVED IS HALF CONQUERED. Once we recognise the enemy, that is the Tempter, at work we can better deal with that situation, confront him and send him packing.
2) Delay; put the situation on hold like Jesus did, and have a SACRED MOMENT. Jesus was often found using delaying tactics (he asks for a denarius, or he draws in the sand, he stoops down and takes mud with which to heal) Perhaps here he was asking for His Father’s wisdom to meet the challenge before Him, VITAL MOMENTS TO DECIDE UPON WHAT TO DO.. Sometimes just a --------? second delay,(like the 20p above) in responding, to send a quick prayer to God can make all the difference in a difficult situation. But no we often jump in with two feet and make matters worse. We say exactly what we think, and live to regret it! We fall prey to sin and destroy other lives. We pay back hurt for hurt.
3) Having confidence to speak the right word in or acting wisely in a given tight situation, after we have paused in prayer, can present such a strong witness …
And whether onlookers, family, friends or enemies come with us and follow or walk away amazed, there will be a sense that they have also met with the God of Wisdom.
Paul keeps reminding us, Christ is in you.
We have the same resources available to us today, because that same Jesus, by His Spirit, resides in each one of us.