Lesley Shatwell’s Sermon on “Render Unto Caesar”

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.
God’s 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.

Sorted!
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

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