Sermons 2005

God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22

Home | "The One who is coming after me", Advent 2B, 4 December 2005, Mark 1:1-8 | "Stay awake. Be alert" Advent 1B, 27 November 2005, Mark13:24-37 | "Black Hat vs White Hat" Proper 26A, 30 October 2005, Matthew 23:1-12 | "Sheep and Goats -- again!" Proper 29A, 20 November 2005, Matthew 25:31-46 | "The Greatest Commandment" Proper 25A, 23 October 2005 Matthew 22: 34-46 | God and Caesar, Proper 24A, 16 October 2005, Matthew 22:15-22 | The Wedding Banquet, Proper 23A, 9 October 2005, Matthew 22:1-14 | The Landlord and the Tenants, Proper 22A , 2 October 2005, Matthew 21:33-43 | "Who will go?" Proper 21A, 25 September 2005, Matthew 21:28-32 | "The Last shall be first", Proper 20A, 18 September 2005, Matthew 20:1-16 | "Forgiveness, grace, and mercy", Proper 19A, 11 September 2005, Matthew 18:21-35 | "But who do YOU say that I am?" Proper 16A, 21 August 2005, Matthew 16:13-20 | "O God, how can we sing to you...." Katrina Relief, 4 September 2005 | "The kingdom of heaven is like...." Proper 12A, 24 July 2005, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-49a | "The wheat and the tares", Proper 11A, 17 July 2005, Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43 | "Ears to listen", Proper 10A, 10 July 2005, Matthew 15:1-9, 18-23 | "A cup of cold water", Proper 8A, 26 June 2005, Matthew 10:34-42 | "Heseth: lovingkindness, not sacrifice", Proper 5A , 5 June 2005, Matthew 9:9-13; Hosea 6:6 | Trinity: A Theological Exploration, 22 May 2005, Matthew 28:16-20 | The Baptism of Parker Benjamin Throckmorton, Pentecost Sunday, 15 May 2005 | "Receive the Holy Spirit" Pentecost , 15 May 2005, John 20: 19-23 | "Unity or schism?" Easter 7A, 8 May 2005, John 17:1-11 | "Abide in me", Easter 6A, 1 May 2005, John 15:1-8 | "The Way, the Truth, and the Life", Easter 5A , 24 April 2005, John 14:1-14 | "Saint Thomas the Doubter", Easter 2A, 3 April 2005, John 20:19-31 | "The Lord is Risen Indeed!", Easter A , 27 March 2005, Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-18 | "The Shadow of the Cross", Passion Sunday A, 20 March 2005, Matthew 26:36-27:66 | Raising of Lazarus", Lent 5A, 13 March 2005, Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-44 | "Who are the blind?" Lent 4A, 6 March 2005, John 9:1-38 | "Water and Living Water", Lent 3A, 27 February 2005, John 4:5-42 | Baptized and Born Again", Lent 2A, 20 February 2005, John 3:1-17 | Temptation and the Kingdom of God, Lent 1A, 13 February 2005, Matthew 4:1-11 | "'Tis good to be here, " Epiphany Last A, 6 February 2005, Matthew 17:1-9 | "Follow me!" Epiphany 3A, 23 January 2005, Matthew 4:12-23 | "Come and See!" Epiphany 2A, 16 January 2005, John 1:29-41 | The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours, Epiphany 1A, 9 January 2005, Matthew 3:13-17 | Christmas 2A: The Tsunami, God, and our Neighbor", Matthew 2, 2 January 2005 | Next Sunday to be posted soon

Proper 24A 2005 Matthew 22:15-22

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Two quick stories about taxes: Story one: A man on vacation was strolling along outside his hotel in Acapulco, enjoying the sunny Mexican weather. Suddenly, he was attracted by the screams of a woman kneeling in front of a child.

The man knew enough Spanish to determine that the child had swallowed a coin. Seizing the child by the heels, the man held him up, gave him a few shakes, and an American quarter dropped to the sidewalk.

"Oh, thank you sir!" cried the woman. "You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?"

"No, ma'am," replied the man. "I'm with the United States Internal Revenue Service." (1)

STORY TWO: In a newly created nation in Africa, an elderly African was told that he was going to be taxed to support the government. "Why?" he asked.

"To protect you from enemies, to feed you when you are hungry, to care for you when you are sick, and to educate your children," he was told.

"I see," said the old man. "It's like I have this dog, and the dog is hungry. He comes begging to me for food. So I take my knife, cut off a piece of the poor dog's tail and give it to him to eat. That, I believe is what this taxation is." (2)

Nobody really likes taxes, especially when they are personally affected.

For the past several Sundays, our gospel lections have contained some of the most difficult parables that Jesus ever told: the two sons, one who said he would abbey but did not, the other who said he would not obey but did; the tenants in the vineyard who killed the landlord’s servants and eventually his son sent to collect the rent; and the wedding feast where the guest without a wedding gown was cast into the outer darkness. These three parables are generally called parables of warning.

Jesus now has a series of confrontations with his enemies. In each one he is confronted in an attempt to show he is no better than any other rabbi, or an attempt to ensnare him in serious difficulties. Not only does Jesus respond with superlative wisdom, but he ends the exchanges by challenging his opponents with a question of his own that they cannot answer -- another bit of veiled self-disclosure. All this probably takes place in the temple courts on Tuesday of Passion Week.

After Jesus spoke the three parables of warning to the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees went out from the temple courts where Jesus was preaching, were joined by the Herodians, and "plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said." : Entrap: Trap reveals the motive: this is no dispassionate inquiry into a proper attitude to the Roman overlord. Paying the poll tax was the most obvious sign of submission to Rome. Zealots claimed the poll tax was a God-dishonoring badge of slavery to the pagans. The trap, then, put Jesus into the position where he would either alienate a major part of the population or else lay himself open to a charge of treason. (3)

The poll tax mentioned in this passage was levied by the Romans against the Jews beginning in A.D. 6 when Judea became a Roman province. When imposed for the first time, it provoked a rebellion led by Judas the Galilean. So the trouble connected with this tax had been around for most of Jesus’ life; there wasn’t a time he couldn’t remember it.

The Herodians were a group mentioned only three times in the Gospels and then only as joining with the Pharisees to oppose Jesus. Nothing more is known about them than what the Gospels state. It appears that they were neither a religious sect nor a political party. They were Jews who supported the dynasty of Herod and therefore the rule of Rome. The first time they are referred to they are seen joining with the Pharisees to destroy Jesus; the second time, trying to trap Jesus by asking him whether it is proper to pay tribute to Caesar. (4) But the Zealots, the Pharisees, and the ordinary people of Palestine resented it.

And although the Pharisees and the Herodians were on opposite sides in New Testament times on obedience and taxes to the Roman Empire, they found themselves allied against Jesus whom they saw as a greater danger. So now they tried to trap Jesus in his words, trying to impale him on the horns of a serious dilemma. Should the authority of Caesar be recognized and the poll tax be paid to him? If Jesus were to have affirmed payment of the poll tax to Caesar, he would no doubt have pleased the Herodians. But he would have made himself an even greater enemy in the Pharisees and an enemy of the people who shared the popular resentment to the poll tax as an unlawful imposition by a heathen government. But if Jesus denied that the poll tax be paid, he would have made himself out to be an enemy of the state and possibly, subject to a charge of sedition. (5)

They are very clever these enemies of Jesus. They pressure Jesus beginning with flattery. The title "Teacher" and the long preamble reflect flattery and pressure for Jesus to speak. If he does not reply after such an introduction, then he is revealed as a man not a man of integrity and is swayed by people. The question "Is it right?" is theological, as all legal questions inevitably were to a first-century Jew.

By NT times "Caesar," the family name of Julius Caesar, had become a title. The emperor at this time was Tiberius. The wording of the question, with its deft "or not," demands a yes or a no. But Jesus will not be forced into a yes or no reply. He recognizes the duplicity of his opponents. Jesus chooses to answer them on his own terms and asks for the coin used for paying this tax. Such coins bore an image of the emperor's head, along with an offensive inscription ("Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus" on one side and "pontifex maximus"--which Jesus would understand as "high priest"--on the other), an inscription that would offend most Palestinian Jews. They hand Jesus a denarius, he looks at both sides of it, examining it closely. He is quiet for a moment. And, then, as he has done before, he asks his questioners a question--this time a question they have to answer.

Superficially, Jesus' answer accords with Jewish teaching that people ought to pay taxes to their foreign overlords, since the great, even the pagan great, owe their position to God. But Jesus' answer is more profound than that. It can be fully understood only in the light of religion-state relations in first-century Rome. The Jews, with their theocratic heritage, were ill-equipped to formulate a theological rationale for paying tribute to foreign and pagan overlords. The only time in their history that this had been theologically possible had been the time of the Jews of the Exile, when they interpreted their situation as one of divine judgment. But it was not only Jewish monotheism that linked religion and state. Paganism customarily insisted even more strongly on the unity of what we distinguish as civil and religious obligations. Indeed, some decades later Christians faced the wrath of Rome because they refused to participate in emperor worship--a refusal the state viewed as treason.

Seen in this light, Jesus' response is not some witty way of getting out of a predicament; rather, it shows his full awareness of a major development in redemption history. Jesus does not side with the Zealots or with any who expected him to bring instant political independence from Rome. The community he determines to build must survive in the world. And that means giving – paying -- to whatever Caesar is in power whatever belongs to him, while never turning from its obligations to God. The lesson was learned by both Paul and Peter in the earliest days of the Church. Of course, Jesus' reply is not a legal statute resolving every issue. Where Caesar claims what is God's, the claims of God have priority. Still, Jesus' words not only answer his enemies but also lay down the basis for the proper relationship of his people to government. The profoundness and depth of his reply is amazing. (6)

He responds to the question about paying taxes to Caesar by indicating that participation in God's kingdom is not necessarily incompatible with the fulfilling of civic responsibilities (such as paying taxes). Moreover, just as coins bearing the image of Caesar should be given to Caesar, so also persons created in the image of God should give themselves to God. (7)

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The King James puts it this way: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Our job is to know which is which.


1. Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, p. 5., on eSermons.COM
2. Bits and Pieces, December 13, 1990. on eSermons.COM
3. Zondervan NIV Commentary, in CD-ROM Zondervan Bible Study Library (Scholar’s edition)
4. “Herodians”, New International Bible Dictionary, in loc. sit.
5. David G. Hagopian, Render to All What Is Due Them: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Honoring Civil Authority and Paying Taxes, Part 2. Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 4 (October 1995).
6. Zondervan NIV Commentary, op. cit.
7. Asbury Bible Commentary, loc. sit.

Wicomico Parish Church, Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579