We are having a BBQ for lunch today and I have brought along some tomatoes. Who would like to have some with their meal? (hand out some tomatoes, once done this go back and get a knife and cut off a portion of the tomato to keep). I’m just taking a share to pay for the transport and purchasing costs of the tomatoes. After all, they’re my tomatoes and I am giving you the privilege of having them. Aren’t I entitled to take a portion?
It doesn’t seem right to be given something only to have a portion taken away. In fact we feel that once we have something its now ours and we can do with it whatever we want.
This is a bit like having to pay taxes to the government. Its our money, shouldn’t we do with it what we like? In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to a friend, “In this
world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Nearly 150 years later (1936), Margaret Mitchell used a similar phrase in _Gone with the Wind_: “Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.” Yes, and there is one more certainty, we always hate paying taxes.
We hate having to pay back part of what we feel is ours; pay back what we think is our right to keep and to do with whatever we want. Aren’t we entitled to it? Perhaps we ourselves have done some mathematical gymnastics to twist figures around so we don’t pay as much tax as we should have. We justify our ‘stealing’ from the government by arguing that its our money and we deserve to do with it what ever we want. Yes, we hate paying taxes.
The Pharisees felt the same way. In fact they had even more reason to hate paying taxes. The Romans were charging them to live in their own country. The Roman Empire defeated Israel and invaded and took them over as rulers. Their God-given homeland was under foreign occupation and they were charging them for the privilege. This is why the Pharisees hated Jews who were tax collectors. They were seen as working for the enemy, traitors who could not be allowed to be a part of the worship life of Israel. A true man of God stood up for the faith of Israel.
As followers of Jesus, we are living on this earth as dual citizens. We live in two kingdoms that are both under God’s rule. Luther taught that the government of this world is God’s Kingdom of the Left, through which he rules to give us food, clothing, homes, money, health and all that we need for our earthly life. Our coins have the image of Queen Elizabeth; The image of our government. Jesus said ‘give to the government what is the governments, so that they are able to enact God’s will for us.
Jesus’ response upholds the authority of earthly government, and asks us to give our support to government, not in just paying taxes, but in everything. In doing so, we are joint rulers with God. Jesus upholds the role of government most clearly at his trial before Pilate when he said to him ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’. God used the government of the day to fulfil his mission of salvation. St Paul also asserts the importance of obeying God ordained government repeatedly in his writings to the early Christian churches, telling them that believers are to respect governmental authority.
Yet, this is only one side of the coin. Jesus continued his answer saying ‘give to God what is God’s.’ God also deserves our allegiance, as citizens of his heavenly kingdom. This is the Kingdom of the right, through which God rules in grace and mercy. He rules to give us life and salvation through his Son Jesus, by the power of his word and Spirit. As citizens of this kingdom as well, clearly, God deserves our tithes and offerings, our worship and thanksgiving for his gift of redeeming grace as members of his church here on earth. But what else belongs to God?
The Roman coin that Jesus held bore the image of Caesar, therefore it belonged to Caesar. But what bears the image and name of God? Nothing but our whole being! In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” And the author of this first book of the Bible concluded, “So God created us in his image…”
We are the coins of God’s realm, of his kingdom. If we are to “give to God what is God’s,” then we must conclude from Jesus’ answer that there is no limit to what we owe God. We owe God our whole being, our very life, all that is ours. No part of our life is excluded from our new life given to us in our baptism. We were redeemed from sin and death and made citizens of his kingdom, as Saint Paul encourages ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.’
We need to think about our faith seriously, and to realize that we are citizens of two kingdoms, to which our greatest allegiance belongs to God. As we live our life, think about how our whole being belongs to God, and let it influence and impact every part of the way we live.
A tomato cannot divide itself into other fruits, keeping the tomato bit for BBQ’s and becoming a grape for desert, no, it is always and only ever will be a tomato. You cannot be divided either. (cut up tomato) Christian bit for church, prayer, and public life; then worldly bit for cheating, stealing and hidden sexual and immoral desires. No, as we give ourselves to different things, work, family, church, sport, government, every part of us has been redeemed. Every part of you has been bought at a price. Let this great news influence everything you do.