Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 22 verses 15 – 21
October 22, 2017
This incident occurred close to the time that Jesus would be executed. He had become very popular. There were some people who did not like how popular Jesus was for various reasons.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trip up Jesus. They start out by buttering him up by telling Jesus how sincere he is, that he teaches the truth about God and that they know that Jesus loves everyone. Then they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (See they had taxes also in those days. Like us, some taxes seem very unfair. This particular tax was a census tax which only applied to certain people. Not to Roman citizens.)
This question put to Jesus was double edged. If Jesus said ‘yes’ it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, then he would have been perceived as being in collusion with Rome which would have been interpreted as justifying Roman oppression of the Jews. If Jesus said ‘no’, then that could have been interpreted as words to start a revolution against Rome. He could have been arrested.
Jesus, in his wisdom, knew what these people were doing. He never answers the question directly and leaves us with a great lesson. Give to the emperor that which is the emperor’s and give to God that which belongs to God.
I believe that ‘giving to the emperor’ is symbolic for our lives here on Earth and that which we acquire. Things like money, clothes, promotions, car, houses. Yes, we need to make money in order to live – to buy food, pay our taxes!, pay a mortgage or rent. But sometimes people get caught up in getting and getting – more and more.
But God does not care about any of this. God only cares about us. Period. Just us. Not what we’re wearing. Not how much money we have. Not if we clean floors or a CEO of a corporation. If you notice, when we die we can’t take any of this stuff with us. Every bit of it is left behind. It is earthly “stuff”. It belonged to us but it never belonged to God; because God doesn’t care about any of it. He only cares about us. Just us – each one of us. Because we are His children. We are one with Him.
We belong to God. We are made by God, in His image and likeness. We are His.
In John, Chapter 4 he says, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”
It may seem that that new leather jacket we just bought fills us with joy because ‘boy, do we look good!’ And we may feel pride that we just got a promotion with a raise. But the great joy, the greater fulfillment, the greatest love is that which resides within us. God. And if we believe that we have that connection first and foremost, then we have everything we need.
So, thank you Jesus for that reminder in your words of wisdom. I will still pay my taxes, giving to the government that which is the government’s but I offer up all that I have and all that I am to God as I seek to become a better person and build a deeper connection to God because that’s where I belong. I belong to God.