Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22
In this Gospel passage, we find a political debate going on between two parties in Jesus’ day. Wow, is that applicable to our day! Humans have always tended to divide themselves into parties and factions, and to have their decisions affected by partisanship. I have had some parishioners encouraging me to get involved in politics, while at the same time having others encouraging me to stay out of them. It is difficult to separate religion and politics; they are so wrapped up in one another. It is important for us to engage in civic debate without losing sight of our true allegiance.
We can’t make a direct comparison between Republicans vs. Democrats and Herodians vs. Pharisees, but political debates are always about the same kinds of things: taxes, money, what the government should do, and how citizens should relate to it.
In this Gospel passage, people came to Jesus with political debates and factions. They tried to flatter him with false words, but Jesus could see that they were in reality approaching him with poor intentions, with malice in their hearts. This brings me to my first point: When we start to define our lives by our partisanship, this causes our hearts to begin to fill with malice. When we prioritize political issues over issues of God’s kingdom, we allow the enemy to get a foothold with bitterness, anger, contempt, and resentment. We begin to believe that those with differing political opinions from ours are our enemies rather than remembering that our true enemy is the enemy of God.
One of the main political issues of Jesus’ day was how Jewish citizens should relate to Rome. The Pharisees took the Jewish purist angle, saying they should remain completely separate from Rome, not paying taxes to Caesar and not accepting the authority of Roman-appointed rulers. On the other side, the Herodians gave their allegiance to Herod, the Rome-appointed king, and said that the Jews should obey him.
These two factions came to Jesus and asked him to choose sides on the issue of whether they should pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus saw right through their plans, though, and provided an answer that none of them expected. He instructed them to look at the coin and see whose image was on it – Caesar’s. So he said, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
The Apostle Paul would take this concept further by encouraging Christians to accept, submit to, and respect our governing authorities. We should pay any taxes we owe to any governing body that God has put over us, and we should fulfill our civic duty by engaging in the process in whatever way we are able. (See Romans 13:1-7.)
Jesus then added another layer of understanding to this idea, though, by saying that not only should we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we should give to God what is God’s. This should convict ANY hearer, no matter their political beliefs. It is a subtle way of saying something very profound. He said to give the coin to Caesar because it bore Caesar’s image. So what in this world bears God’s image that we should give it to him? It is humankind.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:27
Sure, we may owe the government our taxes and our civil responsibilities, but we owe God our very selves. We are to love him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). How can Democrats and Republicans love each other? Not because of their political positions, but because they are both made in the image of God. When we get caught up in political factions, we have lost sight of what is truly valuable. Money may be worth a little, but humans are priceless because of the worth we have been given by God.
In Exodus 33, Moses asked God to give them a sign that Moses and the people of Israel had found favor in his sight. So God hid Moses in a cave and showed him a portion of his glory, declaring his goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and love for his people. God showed Moses that his glory is filled with beautiful attributes.
Our lives are meant to reflect that beautiful brightness of his glory and to display to others those wonderful attributes that God has for all those who are made in his image. Allow the brightness of his glory to manifest in your life and for his glorious image to be displayed upon your life. Jesus encourages us not to be distracted by the things of this earth, but rather to turn our faces to the Son and let his light shine on and through us. If we would do this, our political challenges would melt away. We would be so reflective of God’s character that unity, peace, love, kindness, and holiness would reign supreme among his people. We are called to carry this light to the world.