The Pharisees were clever.
And what’s more, they knew it.
They were God’s chosen people,
doing God’s chosen works,
running their lives according to God’s Rules,
doing things Right.
The Right Way.
But what is God’s Way?
Who makes the rules?
The Pharisees were law abiding citizens.
They followed the Law and traditions of the Jewish people.
And they did not approve of Jesus.
To see the following Jesus had must have given them great cause for concern.
Jesus – the one who went about healing people on the Sabbath,
the one who shared his time with tax collectors and spoke to women,
Jesus the popular local hero who bent so many of their rules.
Today we don’t live by all the rules which the Pharisees had.
Times have changed.
Our culture has changed, we’ve moved on 2000 years and we live in a very different world.
Our rules are that of a modern, secular, western society.
But we have the same ethical conundrum:
How do we tell what is right?
What’s the choice?
Do you enjoy paying taxes? Hands up if you do.
(Well you are odd) I’ve never met anyone who enjoys paying taxes.
But we usually pay up and grudgingly accept that this is the right thing to do.
And when we do pay, what do They go and spend it on?
Bombing raids in Iraq? Health care and education at home?
It always seems there are better ways of spending the public purse and always difficult decisions to make to get the priorities right.
So what about tax avoidance? Good idea?
Probably not – knowing my luck, I’d get caught and then have to pay even more. And for the real big time tax dodgers, there’s prison.
But, I wonder: is it more acceptable to refuse to pay taxes if we use the money we have hidden from the government to give to the charity of our choice? And then, which charity?
Some choices are obvious – no brainers
but it’s not always so clear cut
choosing the right thing to do.
So how do we choose?
How do we know the right thing to do?
The Pharisees knew how to choose.
They knew all the right things to do.
They knew the Law, the rules.
And they knew they wanted to get rid of any trouble makers,
anyone who might rock their boat,
spoil their privileged position in society.
Someone like Jesus.
So they came up with a plan, a very cunning plan.
A double pincer action to trap Jesus.
They were so clever that they didn’t send one of their own company along to spring the trap,
they sent some of their own disciples – may be youngsters who could flatter and then appear to ask a simple, naive question.
And what about some Herodians too – they are part of the civil authority,
they’d want to keep in with the Romans.
And the simple question?
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
Brilliant, we’ve got him now!
If he says, “Yes, pay the taxes, that’s what you have to do because anything else would be illegal”
we’ve got him because he appears to be a religious leader and would be shown up as a fraud to the crowd.
If he says, “No, the emperor is a pagan overlord, we should have nothing to do with him and his taxes”, then the Herodians have got him for inciting revolution.
What can possibly go wrong?
But of course, Jesus was one step ahead.
The denarius was the coin used to pay the hated tax.
It was a silver coin, minted by the Romans. We have some examples in museums.
It shows the emperor’s head and it also carries a message saying that the emperor was god.
But as we heard this morning in Isaiah 54, Scripture states:
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
For the religious folk, the emperor was not God.
Hypocrites, that’s what Jesus calls them.
They won’t carry the coin themselves as it would be a pagan act to do so.
Why not give it back to Caesar – it’s his coin after all?
That would please the Herodians.
But Jesus hasn’t finished.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s”
It’s no wonder the questioners who had tried to trap Jesus marvelled and went away,
they would have had a lot to think about.
Jesus had shown them they had a choice to make.
God gives us a choice too.
If there were no choice and we had to do the right thing, we would, wouldn’t we?
Is it fair that we have to keep on making choices?
Why can’t someone tell us what to do?
The Jewish people carried on grumbling about paying taxes to Rome until ultimately in 70 AD, the Romans had had enough of the rebellion
and so they sacked Jerusalem.
Matthew 22:15-22: “Render to Caesar”: St John’s 19 10 14
A man was talking to his tax inspector. The inspector tells him that as a citizen he is obliged to pay taxes and he is expected to pay them with a smile. The man replies, “Oh that is a relief, I thought you were going to ask me to pay them in cash.”
Personally, I don’t mind paying tax. I believe that every child should be educated, I believe that we should have an NHS, I know it costs money and I give it gladly. But how would I feel if I lived in an occupied country… How would I feel if I knew that the tax-collectors were ton the take? How would I feel about a Caesar living in splendour at my expense? I think I would feel differently about paying my taxes then. They would be a symbol of my occupation, they would be a violation upon all the other violations that I experienced.
The Pharisees disliked the taxes – they were against the Roman Occupation and whilst not as extreme as the Zealots at the time, they saw those who were happy to pay taxes as those who had sold out to Rome. The Herodians thought you should pay taxes and work with Rome rather than against it. If the peace was kept then then life would be easier – best not to rock the boat. It seems though, that the two groups, even though they hated each other, had banded together to quiz Jesus – ask him an impossible question – or at least a question that would make some of the crowd hate him.
“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
Oh I hate the question – I hate the trap – if Jesus says ‘yes’ then he is advocating compliance with the hated Romans… if Jesus says ‘no’ then he is advocating civil disobedience.
But worse than that I hate that the question is so slimy, that the person asking it is being so disingenuous. I don’t want Jesus to engage with it – I don’t want him to find clever put-downs and word plays – I don’t want him to sink to their level. I want Jesus to be above all that.
“Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.”
At least Jesus calls them hypocrites, exposes them for what they are. I love it when people speak plainly – gossip and slander and lies and hypocrisy multiply in the darkness, but they cannot survive in the light.
“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.”
Does this mean that Jesus is separating the sacred and the secular? I don’t think so. When Jesus says “Give to God the things that are God’s” then the question is “what isn’t Gods?” It reminds me of that joke where the scientists are telling God that they can do without God now and they can create humans like God can. They challenge God to a competition and then they collect some dust to repeat what God did with Adam and God says “Stop! Get your own dust!”
Everything is God’s.
But the Bible talks a lot about money and how the love of it is bad for you.
There is a story about John D. Rockefeller, Sr, who worked very hard to be a success. He became a millionaire by this age of twenty-three and by the age of fifty was the richest man on earth. In his 50s Rockefeller suffered from moderate depression and digestive troubles and developed alopecia, a condition that causes the loss of some or all body hair. By 1901 he did not have a hair on his body, and he began wearing wigs. He could only digest milk and crackers and doctors thought that he would die.
Now, from his very first pay check he tithed – he gave a tenth to the church. But on becoming ill he realised that his great wealth couldn’t help him and he couldn’t take his money with him. So he established the Rockefeller Foundation, he channelled his fortune into education, hospitals, research, and mission work. His contributions eventually led to cures for hookworm, yellow fever and other diseases.
By altering his life so dramatically, he eventually lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven.
For some the worship of money and possessions can be a profound and deadly spiritual problem. The more we have, the less are able to give. The more things we own, the greater the temptation to allow things to own us.
I heard about a study recently that was focussed on lonely people. Apparently, if we are lonely we tend to watch more television and that can lead to depression. Why? Well because the adverts are constantly telling us to be dissatisfied with our lives – we aren’t sexy enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, young enough or popular enough. But if we buy the product then we will be. Moreover the television programmes also encourage us to buy into the materialistic culture – we should buy a castle in Scotland and do it up, we should go into our attics and discover a fortune, we should go into the dragons den and pitch our idea, we should be an apprentice and over perform. Money, money, money.
It make us sad, it gives us little hope.
I believe Jesus is telling us to pay our dues, pay our taxes and just be done with it.
But more importantly, the thing we should be focussing on is whether we are giving to God what we should, yes our money, but also ourselves, our hopes, our dreams, our trust, the whole of our lives.
And the weird thing is that when we give ourselves to God, we find that we had more than we had in the first place. God is in debt to no one.
Today we are collecting the TTT pledges. A token of our desires to put God first in our lives, to trust God and to give our time, talents and ten-pound notes in gratitude for all that God has given to us.
A team of volunteers from the Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale have recently been taking Bible stories into Folly Hill School and Badshot Lea Village School using props, costumes and drama under a scheme called “Open the Book”.
Sandra Hall, who worships at St George’s Church, Badshot Lea, and leads the team said:
“ ‘Open the Book’ is a project which aims to enable every child to hear the story of the Bible in their primary years. It offers a programme presenting Bible stories in a lively way that is also carefully structured to suit Collective Worship. There is a rolling programme over three years of about 100 stories based on the Lion Storyteller Bible, together with a reflection and prayer, all approved by Ofsted.”
Chris Green, the Headteacher at Folly Hill School said,
“The children really look forward to visits from the ‘Open the Book’ team. The way the stories are presented bring the Bible to life. The stories also help with other learning in the school. The Garden of Eden story lent itself to discussions about the environment and how we should look after it.”
Parish Priest The Revd. Lesley Crawley said:
“This project is great fun, the kids love it, the adults love it, there are gasps of amazement and peals of laughter. The Bible Stories are brought to life in a memorable way and we feel it is really important that this generation of children know the Bible stories, not only is our faith based upon them, but so is much of our culture. If anyone who is a Christian of any denomination would like to join our merry band then ring me on 01252 820537 or email me – firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The fruit trees have been ordered and the planting date set for the community orchard in Upper Hale. Trees have been ‘adopted’ by community groups so that the trees get the ongoing care they need. Help is needed to dig holes on Saturday 8th November at 1pm and plant trees on Saturday 6th December at 1pm at St Mark’s Church, Upper Hale, GU9 0LT.
Hale will soon have a community orchard. Members of the community, old and young, are invited to bring their spades and help dig some holes for the fruit trees on Saturday 8th November at 1pm at St Mark’s Church, Upper Hale, GU9 0LT. The trees will be planted on Saturday 6th December at 1pm and again members of the community with willing hands and spades would be welcome!
Paul Sowden who is leading the team said:
“It is exciting that the orchard is going to actually happen. The trees have been ordered and I hope that this will become a beautiful and peaceful space for all in the community to enjoy. It was great to see young people at the consultation evening who were so engaged and interested in the project. We have eight community groups who have adopted a tree each, so that the tree can be cared for properly, there is room for other groups to adopt the other two trees. At the moment we are concentrating on the trees, but we also intend to create a wildflower garden and that will be our next challenge.”
John Ely, who has experience with creating and restoring orchards said:
“We have chosen trees that are local varieties so that they will thrive in this part of Surrey, not just apple trees but pears and cherry trees too. We’ve also decided to train a quince along one of the walls which will be a beautiful addition to the orchard.”
Parish Priest The Revd. Lesley Crawley said:
“We have a responsibility to look after creation and we know that planting trees has a beneficial effect not only in our own community but more widely than that too. Christians believe that the beauty of creation gives glory to God and I hope this orchard will be beautiful as well as fruitful and that it will become a sanctuary for all in Hale.”
Crafters and others will be able to sell their wares at a Christmas Fayre which will take place on 13th December from 2-5pm at St George’s Church, Badshot Lea
The Parish of Badshot Lea and Hale have decided to bring a bit of Christmas Spirit to Badshot Lea this year and hold a Christmas Fayre.
Lucy Bridger who is leading the team said:
“We need volunteers for helping out, cakes for the cake stall, tombola items and we especially need to hear from crafters! Anyone who is a crafter and would like the opportunity to sell their wares can buy a table and they need to contact me, either by email – email@example.com or by telephone – 07792 858850”
Parish Priest The Revd. Lesley Crawley said:
“People remember with great fondness the annual parish fete in Badshot Lea which was held in the old vicarage gardens. When the new vicarage was built, there wasn’t room for the fete in the little garden and sadly the event fizzled out. We wanted to start a new community event in the village and decided that a Christmas Fayre inside the church sounded like fun.”
“We hope that the idea will take off and that it will become an annual event and a great opportunity for local people to meet and have fun together. The proceeds will go to much needed church funds.”
Last Sunday was TTT Sunday – it stands for Time, Talents and Ten Pound Notes!
We took time to ask God how God wants to use us and all that God has given us in the Service of his Kingdom.
It is exciting what God has done through so many people since last year – I recommend looking at the leaflet to see!