“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s.” This is sometimes quoted by Jesus and interpreted to mean that we separate our political or civil lives from our religious lives. But I think the opposite is true- Jesus is calling us to consider what it means to live our whole lives as citizens first of the realm that God rules- to recognize fully that everything belongs to God. Everything.
For as a Jewish person Jesus knew the Scriptures, Genesis, the psalms, Job, so many that speak of everything being created by God. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. Psalm 24: 1- so if we give to God what is God’s, and we believe everything belongs to God, what does that look like?
We need to back up a moment and remember the intent behind the question. Two opposing groups have gotten together to try to trap Jesus. Because Jesus speaks the truth wherever he goes, he has made enemies. They want to stop his ministry and the energy he is creating. So some religious leaders that he has interacted with before now join forces with Herodians, those in favor of Herod, who you remember had John the Baptist, the one preparing the way for Jesus, beheaded- so they are not pious Jews. The set up a question that with representatives of both their groups there, will get Jesus in trouble. They set him up with flattery and try to catch him off guard. Is it lawful to pay the tax?
Remember too that the Romans, charging the tax, are not a legitimate government seeking the welfare of the people. They are occupiers, parasites draining the resources of the local people for their own benefit. This is not the 10% for the temple required from the old testament this is an additional charge. Not paying it gets you in trouble with the occupiers. but saying openly among other religious people that yes we should, is a little treasonous. The coin bore the image of Caesar, while the coins of the temple were careful to avoid any image at all, because of the First commandment- you shall have no other gods before me. The Romans did consider their ruler to be if not god, more divine than everyone else; the bridge between the people and God. Which to a Jewish person is of course blasphemy- the Lord alone is God. If Jesus answers yes we should pay it, he’s in trouble with the super -religious leaders. If he says no, he’s in trouble with the government representatives.
Yet Jesus is not caught in this carefully laid trap.
Jesus can see right through their tricks. He can acknowledge the reality of the situation- well we are under Roman occupation and if you want to stay out of trouble, you do pay the tax. Our God is a god of Life, first and foremost- I joined the Old testament Bible study last week and there is a part where Jeremiah has been going on and on about how awful the destruction is that was coming upon Jerusalem, how just about everybody would die, and then sent a message from the Lord, you just might live if you surrender- surrender to the awful enemies that want to kill us and destroy our city? But over and over that message comes through, even though the prophet was letting the people know they really messed up and all of this destruction was their fault, but also, God wants you to live and if you surrender to this other invading people, you will. There are many other situations where God demands full obedience and no compromise but there are many too where it is a murky situation. And through it all, God is always on the side of life, life to the fullest, as much as possible in every situation.
So Jesus, knowing the consequences, can say yes take this coin, pay the tax. But at the same time let’s consider, shall we, who is really in charge? The Romans may be in power for the moment but Jesus has been preaching and revealing another empire- God’s kingdom, and what it means to be a citizen of that realm. Give to Caesar what is Caesar, but what about giving to God what is God’s?
And that was a challenge yes to the Herodians, to the Sadduccees, and even to the very disciples of Jesus gathered around him. If you truly believe God is creator, and everything is God’s, why aren’t you living that way?
If you really believe something, you can’t help but live it out.
Sometimes we like those challengers and disciples, need to be reminded, if we really believe everything is God’s, we ought to be living that way. It is the first line of our creeds: I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth .
If everything belongs to God, Time is God’s. God is the end and the beginning and holds our days in God’s hands. So how do we spend our time? To say that time belongs to God doesn’t mean that every day is a Sabbath, a day of rest; but it should mean that one day is. Or a combination of times on different days, because everybody is juggling now, I know- but God told us to rest. And the other time- well all time should be well-stewarded in serving others, in expressing love, in using our God-given talents to fulfill our responsibilities and yes taking time to enjoy life itself.
Money is God’s. Boy this is a hard one for a lot of us including me- but all financial resources even if they’re in an account with my name on it- it belong to God. That doesn’t mean that I turn my whole paycheck over to the church every two weeks, but it does mean that we prayerfully consider how to meet our needs, bless others, and give faithfully.
Sidebar here for Palm members- because writing this I realized that around this time we usually have some stewardship emphasis and invite you to fill out pledge cards for the next year. That is one thing that completely fell off my to-do list for this year. I repeat that I am grateful for your faithful giving and do encourage everyone to make a pledge. Whether or not pledge cards will be coming in time to come back before the end of the year, I am not sure. But all the resources are God’s. How does God want us to spend and give faithfully? Is another consideration we have if we are truly living what we believe.
Other people are God’s. If God made everything, God made everybody. So we ought to treat every human being with respect and dignity. The person who cut you off in traffic? Child of God. The person who grabbed the last pack of toilet paper back in March right before you could get there- child of God. Smartmouth politician? Child of God. Now I say something like this in other sermons but loving other people doesn’t mean you let them walk all over you. So holding people accountable, letting them know -lovingly- that they have slighted you is a part of treating all people, including yourself, with respect and dignity. The Black Lives Matter movement has this to teach our nation- if a certain group of people are not receiving the respect and dignity they deserve, it is out of a belief that everyone belongs to God that we should all speak up about it.
Which brings us to- you yourself. You belong to God. Your body needs care, your spirit and mind need care, interaction, diversion. In the midst of living a life of serving and loving, do not neglect caring for what you need as well. Especially in this time of pandemic, tend to your own total well-being, so that you can go on being there for others as well.
Psalm 24 says, The Earth is the Lord’s. We humans enjoy the bounty of the earth- and sometimes a little too much, for example when it comes to fossil fuels. A life of living our belief that everything belongs to the Lord means being responsible for how we use resources, not taking too much for ourselves but thinking of future generations as well, how we can honor the creation we have been given to steward.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar and what is God’s, to God. So what does belong to quote unquote Caesar today? Because we here in the US are not under the occupation of a foreign power, we have a representative democracy. What does it mean of us to live our our beliefs that everything is God’s, in regards to our government? I think it means we pay our fair share of taxes, and we get involved in knowing how those dollars are spent, that they go to care for people who belong to God who need assistance; for the fullness of life for all people, we participate in our processes like voting, and in local discussions of decisions that are being made, to try to do the most good possible for all, and especially for the most vulnerable among us. And as we do so we do not treat others and their opinions as wrong or less, but listen carefully and speak, like Jesus, out of deep faith that though we are in a temporary structure and realm, there is an eternal one under and through it. How we act, how we treat others, matters. We don’t try to separate out our faith from our civil selves on those occasions but live from the full understanding that everything belongs to God and so we should all be doing our best to care for everybody and everything like it was a precious gift from God. Because it is.
These times we are all living through are weird and crazy. We are all trying to survive a pandemic. We have elections coming up that many think will have unclear or contested results and may lead to a governmental crisis. Tensions between groups and people are pretty high. For the follower of Jesus, we are called to remember just who we belong to, and what that means for how we live. Our faith in God should show in how we live. God has given us everything we have, even our own lives. Jesus had that trust in God at his core and lived his life that way, always caring for others, always telling the truth and yes living through some pretty messy times, but with deep faith that God is a god of life. And living in God’s ways will lead to fullness of life for all. As we spend our money and time, as we interact with loved ones and strangers, as we vote, may we all remember that we all belong to God and we ought to live that way. Amen.