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03.07.21 Giving to God Matthew 22.11-20 Sermon Summary

by on March 9, 2021

Tuesday of Jesus’ last week is the one filled with the most conflict and controversy. Following the grand entrance of Sunday and the “cleansing” of the Temple on Monday, Tuesday sees questions regarding Jesus’ authority, arguments over fine points about the Law, parables, and prophecies.

Jesus’ inquisitors include Sadducees, Law scribes, priests, Herodians, and Pharisees. Today we hear from one of the disciples of the Pharisees, a man named Amram.

N.B. The rest of this message is presented in first person. 

We thought we had him; and we needed to get him—after that spectacle on Sunday and the display yesterday! I say “we” but I’m just a disciple of the Pharisees. My name is Amram which means “exalted nation.” 

I follow the Pharisees because they want a holy nation. They’re for practicing the rites of the Temple at home. They want to please God and bring a blessing upon our nation.

Recently we’ve found ourselves allied with the Herodians. We normally oppose the Herodians because we want a Davidic king. Herodians are content to continue Herod’s dynasty. Herod is a vassal of Rome, installed as the “King of the Jews” but really only nominally so. He is building us a huge Temple, though.

Normally Herodians and Pharisees are opposed to each other but a common enemy has made us friends. That common enemy is Jesus. 

Pharisees oppose Jesus because he preaches a righteousness distinct from one’s actions. It is a righteousness apart from the time we spend doing righteous acts. His approach allows more common people to be righteous—people who don’t really have the kind of time Pharisees do to observe all the rituals. 

Herodians oppose Jesus because he preaches a Kingdom of God that is distinct from the Kingdom of Rome. This means he preaches a Kingdom distinct from the Kingdom of Herod.

Anyway, the Pharisees sent me, a disciple, and some Herodians to trap Jesus. And we thought we had him. If we could get Jesus sideways with Rome, especially during Passover when the Roman proconsul Pilate was also in town, we knew that Rome would take care of him.

And few things express our problem with Rome better than taxes. Most people oppose taxes. They may disagree with the military even though they enjoy the protections the military ensures. They may have a problem with the politics but they enjoy the religious benefits politicians offer—like our huge Temple.

And most people don’t think about the roads, the clean water, or the trade taxes make possible. So questions about taxes get people mad, and we asked Jesus: “Jesus, you teach truth. You’re impartial. People look to you for religious leadership. Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”

Now Jesus often used parables to teach or illustrate and so it was no surprise when he asked for a tax-coin. I thought he was just buying time. See, if he said yes it is right to pay taxes to the emperor, we would accuse him of being unfaithful to our religion. But if he said no it’s not right, then he could be seen as unpatriotic to the empire.

I wanted to impress everyone so I reached into my bag and pulled out a handful of coins. Some had no image at all. These are the Temple coins. I picked this one up yesterday after Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers. But the tax-coin, called a denarius, is imprinted with symbols of Roman importance—just like all national coins are. I handed the tax-coin to Jesus and put the rest back in my bag. 

“Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked. “The emperor’s,” someone answered. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,” he continued, “and give to God the things that are God’s.” Then he flipped the denarius back to me. 

There was silence as we thought about this. Then some murmurs. Then some gasps. Then some chuckles. And finally there was some small applause. I noticed the oldest among us simply nodded then quietly and slowly walked away. 

I looked around like the last guy to get a joke. And then I got it. Jesus sprung the trap we set, but he wasn’t in it. I was in it. The joke was on me. 

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” Of course the coin belonged to the emperor. I didn’t make it; Rome did. It only has value because Rome says it has value. I live in a Roman territory so I use Roman coins.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.” That was easy—Sabbath, study, worship, and prayer—God deserves all these. The Pharisees also want this. But then I remembered Moses standing before Pharaoh after the plague of hail. Pharaoh pleaded and Moses responded, “I will call upon God and the hail will stop so that you know the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29) And I remembered the Psalm of David which begins, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world and all those who live in it.” (Psalm 24) 

“Give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus said. There’s nothing that doesn’t belong to God! Everything belongs to God! The Temple coin AND the Roman coin. The Sabbath day AND the work days. My words in prayer AND my words in conversation with others. ALL belongs to God. Give it ALL to God. 

And there I was, an aspiring Pharisee concerned about holiness, holding a Roman coin. I was caught holding the bag. I was amazed. People looked at me and some laughed under their breath. I dropped the coin and walked away.

I began to think: Everyone is a disciple of some philosophy, a disciple of some way of thinking. We’re all disciples of some way of acting. I was a disciple of the Pharisees. But Jesus also has disciples. I wondered: Maybe they have room for one more?

But then I thought, Since our whole lives belong to God, how far will Jesus take his teaching? How far will his disciples? Will they give their lives to God? I don’t know if I could do that. 

But if we did as Jesus taught, if we gave to God what belongs to God, if we gave God everything, that would change our religion. It would certainly change Rome. It would lead to what my name means, Amram, the exalted nation, a nation exalted because it is truly blessed. It might even lead to the Kingdom of God.

So I ask myself, Whose disciple will I be? Whose will you be?

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