(Proper 24, Mt 22.15-22)
said to the Pharisees, “Give to the emperor the things that are the
emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
of you know that I am an avid sports fan. So
naturally I am having a lot of fun right now, because my two favorite teams for
as long as I can remember, are both currently winning.
Of course that would be my hometown Astros and my alma mater, the
how I said my teams are winning.
Fans always do that – use the first person – refer to their favorite
team as “we won.” It is as if I
am actually part of the team that I root for.
do that. I do that.
We are so attached to our teams that we are one with them.
Like most fans, it is one of those areas in my life that has no gray.
There is no divided loyalty.
I am exclusively a fan of my teams – and I cannot be tempted to stray
from that allegiance. It is
unconditional and exclusive loyalty.
me wonder why we often don’t always seem to have as much unconditional and
exclusive loyalty to our God as we do the sports teams in our lives.
maybe that is not a great analogy for what is going on in today’s gospel
teaching. But Jesus is
talking about our unconditional love of God.
look at his encounter with the Pharisees.
are told at the outset that their intent is not straight forward.
Although they ask a very probing question.
About how people of faith are to respond to situations in which they may
be required by governmental authorities to do something that they feel is
against the teaching of their faith. Yet,
they do not ask it in order to gain enlightenment, but rather to entrap Jesus.
two very different groups are sent with the question.
Pharisees and Herodians. Jewish
religious authorities and representatives of the State.
Two groups that have nothing in common other than a shared unease about the
teachings and the following of this prophet named Jesus.
so the question is posed to Jesus (After some flattery to butter him up, of
course.) Is it lawful (meaning
lawful in God’s eyes – Jewish law: Torah).
Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?
Pharisees are already on record that they are against the taxes.
Probably for more than one reason – the main one being that it is
homage to the Emperor. And the
Emperor was considered by his subjects to be a god.
Therefore, paying taxes was tantamount to worshipping a pagan god.
of course the Herodians are the very keepers of the Emperor’s laws.
So the trap is set. If Jesus
says yes, then the Pharisees have him for blasphemy.
And if he says no, the Herodians have him for inciting his followers to
break the law.
that seems like a pretty good trap, doesn’t it?
In fact, I am quite sure that it would have ensnared me.
However, Jesus is up to the challenge.
And he gives one of those wonderfully phrased responses of his that both answers
the question and avoids it at the same time.
to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that
cannot be accused of advocating civil disobedience because he as much as says
that some things are the emperor’s – constructs of man in which God
has little interest.
then Jesus says, give to God that which is God’s.
And we know and the Pharisees knew that he meant, “give your lives.”
Your lives which God has given you, give back to God.
Jesus answers the question, but he really puts the onus of responsibility
for making those distinctions back on the Pharisees, doesn’t he?
A clever answer that once more foiled a plot against him, but
unfortunately not an answer that provides us with particular enlightenment.
mean, what does it look like to give our lives to God?
recently saw a movie entitled The Kingdom
of Heaven, which presents one idea of how things of God and things of man
Kingdom of Heaven is probably one of the best and most
thought-provoking movies that I have seen in several years.
Because it gives us a view of ancient history through the lens of 21st
century technology and thought.
the violence is over the top – much too unnecessarily graphic for me to
be able to recommend that you see the film.
However, I can tell you about it.
movie is historically based – and it is set in the Middle Ages. At
the time of the crusades.
hero is an obscure village blacksmith named Balian.
Obscure that is, until his father, a great knight named Godfrey, comes to
find him. After they meet for the
first time, Balian is intrigued about Godfrey’s offer to go with him to the
they journey together, Godfrey teaches Balian the ways of knighthood; something
that was obviously already in Balian’s blood.
When Balian asks about
Godfrey dies on the journey, and Balian is left to discover the rest for
without fear in the face of your enemies.
brave and upright that God may love thee.
the truth always, even if it leads to your death.
the helpless and do no wrong.
is your oath.
life is forever changed by that solemn vow of his knighthood.
the story evolves, the death of King Baldwin is quickly followed by his
successor going to war with the Moslems. Determined
that God is on their side, the Christian army leaves the relative safety of
Saladin’s troops are vastly superior in numbers, so it is ultimately a mission
of suicide for the Christians.
Balian makes most of them knights and prepares them as best he can to defend the
Balian makes his speech before the commencement of battle, he tells his army
defend this city not to protect these stones, but we fight for the people living
in these walls.
ultimately, while inevitably losing Jerusalem, they are able to hold out
long enough that Saladin is forced to offer terms for the city’s surrender.
And so the people of the city are allowed safe transport to a Christian
to some like Balian and those who walked out of the city to their freedom, they
understand that the kingdom of heaven is here (head) and here (heart).
And it cannot be taken away by any king or any army.
stones of the wall may be the emperor’s.
our lives are God’s.
is one of those planned coincidences of course, that this reading comes on the
first day of this year’s Stewardship season.
And as usual, we will hear from our own members about their personal
spiritual experiences. Those times
in their lives when they felt drawn to God and to the church.
Those times when they really felt that exclusive love of God in their
if you think about the underlying themes of those testimonials, what you hear is
people who came to a decision in life to let God be in charge of their
lives. To try to follow what God
would have them do.
have lots of catchy stewardship slogans, but my favorite is the one that says
something like, “Stewardship is all that I am
and all that I do after I have said yes to
Jesus Christ as Lord in my life.”
saying yes to Jesus Christ is understanding that everything I have is from God
– and is God’s.
I am but a temporary steward while passing through this life and
therefore I strive to render back to God that which is God’s.
is here (head) and what is here (heart). My
unconditionally to God.