Who likes paying taxes?
Who thinks paying tax is good?
Some of the biggest political questions today are: Who should pay taxes? How much should you pay? Who should decide how your tax money is spent and what it is spent on?
If we had Jesus standing here today, and if I asked Jesus those questions, what would he say? And would you like the answers? It was a political question back then too, even more political than it is today.
When you have an election you get a say in who gets our tax money, and how they might spend our tax money. The overseer of the government in 1st Century Palestine was a king, Herod Antipas. He wasn’t elected to this position but was the king because he had agreed to exercise his rule within the great Roman Empire.
He would remain king as long as he toed their line, which included paying plenty of tax money to Rome. Herod exercised his authority with military might and the political will of the Roman government.
So there was a lot of political feeling about this question about whether a good Jew should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. If you paid your tax money you were supporting the enemy. If you didn’t pay your tax money you could be arrested for treason.
The Pharisees were good politicians. They resented Jesus, because he was a threat to their petty power and religious status. They wanted to embarrass Jesus, discredit Jesus, keep him quiet, or get rid of him any way they could. They knew how to play the political games.
First, they butter him up. Jesus, we know that you always tell the truth. And that you are impartial, because you don’t consider people’s status.
And then they put the question. They know how to use a question that will force him to incriminate himself or to embarrass him in front of the people.
They have made sure that they are in a crowd where there a lots of witnesses, including people who are opposed to the Romans.
But they have also made sure that there are some supporters of King Herod there as well, who will report him if he says anything against the government.
Their question: Is it right to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?
Jesus is not a politician, and he is not going to get sucked into their political games.
First, he exposes their devious motives: You hypocrites, he calls them. Why are you trying to trap me?
He knows that their respectful approach is just flattery. And he knows their question is meant to be a double-edged sword.
Their question: Is it right to pay taxes to the Emperor,
really means: is it right in God’s eyes, according to God’s will, in accordance with God’s commands of the Old Testament?
But he knows that they are not really interested in God’s will, except in using God’s commands when they suit their own purposes.
An astute politician would probably say: No comment.
Or try to evade the question. So instead of beating around the bush with their question, he gives them a much bigger picture of life, of life in their community, and life in God’s world.
He uses the question to teach the people a true God-pleasing relationship to their society. And a true God-pleasing relationship to God.
He asks someone to show him a coin. They all had coins in their pockets or purses. You all have coins and notes in your pockets or bags or wallets.
If you look at the coin, whose image is on the coin? Or the note? Queen Elizabeth, as symbolic head of state?
Whose image was on those old coins? Whose name was written there? Emperor Tiberius!
And that is significant. The government is responsible for pressing coins, and printing money. Can you print your own money? Governments tend to frown on people who print their own money.
The government has the right to print money, and if you have the right to make coins that shows that you are the government. And the government has the responsibility of maintaining the value of money.
If you have this money in your pockets, if you use this money for your daily life, then you have a responsibility to the government who provides the coins. Yes, you have a responsibility to pay your taxes.
Money was a very important invention that allowed societies to grow and become more complex. Now you produce something or provide some service, and you earn money. And you use that money to buy something that someone else has produced. That is the basis of the very complex financial systems that we have today.
But for Christians there is another dimension. Work is not just work – work is serving. Whatever you do, do it to glorify God, and to serve the needs of people.
How can you serve people who are long way away, whose needs are beyond your ability to help? Money can be a way of reaching them, as you give for their welfare according to their needs, so that they can afford to get the help they need.
This brings us back to taxes. What are taxes? You can think of taxes as a means of service. Taxes are the means of serving the community as a whole. Our taxes provide for our roads and our hospitals and our defence and our education. You are serving the people of your community, as together you are providing for your own needs.
You are also providing for the needs of people in your community who do not have the means to provide for themselves. If you have needs, you may also be benefitting from those means. So your taxes are a way of sharing, according to needs.
There are still always questions of how taxes should best be administered. But when you compare a community that has fair taxes, with a community that has no taxes, because it is has no effective government, then you can even be thankful for taxes.
You may even be able to pay your taxes with a smile. And you may be able to dedicate your taxes – God use these taxes for the benefit of many people.
So give back to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor. Pay the coins that have the image of the Emperor stamped onto it.
But that is only half of Jesus’ answer. And pay to God what belongs to God.
What belongs to God? We often think that this means give some of your money to the government and give some of your money to God.
But I do not think that is what it means, and I do not think that is what Jesus intended.
Pay to the Emperor, because the Emperors image is on your coins. Pay to God, what bears the image of God.
Where do you find the image of God? Where do you look if you want to see the image of God? Look in a mirror. Look at yourself.
Think back to the story of creation. God created the world, everything in the world, and every creature in the world. Then God created human beings. In the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them. God created us, as human beings, in his own image.
What does that mean? It means that we are different to all of God’s other creatures. It means that God has put something of himself into us. Not in a physical sense, because God is beyond any physical image, but in a spiritual sense. God has breathed his Spirit of life into us.
It means that God has created us to share in his creation, and to pass on his gift of life. It means that God has created us to share a relationship with himself.
It means that God has given us a will to serve his will, to know and choose and do what is good and right and holy. It means that we have been created to live with God forever.
But we know that we have sinned against our God. As a human race, and each of us individually, we have sinned against our God.
Which means that this image of God in us has been spoiled. We have trouble seeing the image of God in one another. We have trouble seeing the image of God in ourselves.
Our sinful selfishness gets in the way. It ruins this relationship with God. It blots out life the way it should be, the life that reflects the image of God.
Our God has given us Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God coming into our world. But now God is in a form that we can see, God with a real physical human presence. St Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, the image of the invisible God.
Jesus is God coming to us. And Jesus shows us what human life, our life, is, and what our life should be.
Not only shows us. Jesus brings us back to God. Jesus overcomes our sin. Jesus restores our life. Jesus gives us God’s Spirit anew. Jesus gives us a whole new life,
a life formed again according to the image of God.
So where is the image of God? The image of God is in you. You have been created in the image of God. As Christians, you have been re-created by the salvation of Jesus Christ into the image of God.
Now, pay to God what belongs to God. Pay to God, give to God, what has the image of God imprinted onto it. Give to God yourself. Give to God your own life.
That is the challenge that Jesus gives. To receive our life as God’s precious gift, God’s precious gift given twice over. And then to give our live to him. Because we belong to him.
To give our lives for serving him. For worshipping him. For loving him. To dedicate our lives as we trust him. And then to dedicate ourselves to serve as Jesus serves.
With a deep love that reaches out to other people, in all their needs, a love that embraces them into the love of God.
Jesus challenges us to see ourselves, and all of our lives, as an opportunity to live for our Lord, to serve and to give.
Now, it is not just how much money do I think I should give? Yes, our money belongs to God too, the money that we present as an offering, but also all the money that we need and spend for every purpose.
Now there is no room for silly political questions. Now there is just one question, one spiritual question. How can I best give myself to my God and Lord? Amen.