In the gospel reading from Matthew (Matt 22:15-22) Jesus reminds us that we are not only;
Citizens of Earth, but also Citizens of Heaven
Jesus had been critical of the Pharisees in the preceding parables in St Matthew’s Gospel. So the Pharisees were now having a go back, using the issue of paying tax to Caesar, to try and discredit him.
They had even joined forces with the Herodians, who although also Jewish, were usually staunch enemies, because of their different views.
The Pharisee’s view was that they had to not only stoop to foreign Roman rule but also pay exorbitant taxes to them for the privilege of doing so. So, they entirely disagreed with this tax law.
The Herodians however, ingratiated themselves with the Romans in the hope of advancing their position and power, and so agreed with the tax laws.
The fact that they had joined forces to confront Jesus demonstrates how much he was opposed by them because he was trying to change the order of things.
It wasn’t because they were necessarily content with the current order of affairs, rather, the changes they wanted were not the ones that Jesus was teaching.
Because both the Pharisees and Herodians were seeking power on their terms.
They cunningly tried to trap Jesus by bringing up the contentious subject of tax, a political hot potato in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. A bit like HS2 and climate change today I imagine.
The seemingly innocent question about paying taxes to the Romans was a contrived argument to try and discredit Jesus.
Whichever way Jesus answered, the Pharisees and Herodians thought he would be damned.
If he sided with the Pharisees and said no, you should not pay taxes to Caesar, then the Herodians could have him arrested and probably crucified for incitement to rebel.
But if he agreed with the Herodians that they should pay taxes to Caesar, then he would offend local Jewish religious tradition and be discredited in the eyes of many of them.
But Jesus knew exactly what they were trying to achieve, and he took them by surprise when he announced they must give to, not only Caesar what is owed, but also to God what he is owed.
Today, I expect many would like to suggest we don’t pay taxes, but most accept we must pay taxes to local and national authorities to provide the safety and structure of the country and towns we live in.
But How do we Give to God, What is His?
To answer this question we need to look at what life was like for the average person in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
The culture when Jesus came to Earth was unlike anything we know today. Although the Jewish people adhered to biblical standards and laws were in place, provided by benevolent rulers, to protect basic human rights there was still a distinct lack of them, compared to today.
Education and healthcare were limited.
Slavery was rife as was cruelty to animals.
Don’t even think about the possibilities of trade unions to protect workers, or prisoners’ rights.
Women’s and children’s rights were almost nonexistent they were often treated as second-class citizens.
There was a lot of power play and greed at work and many social norms then might seem quite barbaric to us today.
But Jesus was teaching a different way of being, one of making things right and fair, for all.
He was demonstrating the need to develop nurturing relationships and encourage the flourishment and development of one another. He was working towards an;
Eternal and God-given Plan
This plan would culminate when he died on the cross and when the Kingdom of God drew closer.
After this, the Christian movement developed quickly with people committed to building God’s kingdom in the here and now. Although the kingdom is not quite here yet, it will come when Jesus returns.
I have heard this described as:
A Long-term Engagement
Two young people meet and fall in love and know they want to be together forever, so get engaged and demonstrate their commitment to each other with a diamond ring.
But their parents insist they have a good education and job before they get married. Also, they must save a certain of amount money saved for a deposit on a house.
So they embark on the long process of preparation before the precious day of the wedding.
But they are fully committed, and the engagement ring symbolises their long-term faithfulness. They happily demonstrate their dedication to each other as they prepare for the big day.
The reality, however, is that they are not yet fully united in marriage.
But it is a sure and certain hope in the all-too-distant future.
So too, we live in the sure and certain hope of God’s Kingdom finally reigning on earth and work with our talents and gifts to help draw that day closer, however small our efforts may seem, in our day-to-day lives.
Biblical Evangelists and Modern-day Reformers
It was the early evangelists who, from a rag-tag of followers left behind at Christ’s death, spread the story of hope we have in heaven on earth, because of the life and death of Jesus.
Today, because of their faith and long-term hope, a third of the world’s population, approximately 2.5 billion Christians practice the faith all around the world.
The Christian faith is woven into the physical fabric of this country and believers have been giving to God what is his by leading the way with reforms in human rights over many centuries.
Whilst we still live in an imperfect world, many of the laws and values that we now take for granted have their roots firmly planted in the Bible and Christian faith.
It was the Christian faith that compelled William Wilberforce, a committed British Christian MP, to fight the slave trade, help set up homes for the elderly, and establish the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Other Christians successfully campaigned for universal education and healthcare for all.
It was the Christian faith that led believers to campaign for better working conditions and provisions for the mentally ill.
Again, it was the Christian faith that led to campaigns for prison reform.
It is easy to take these things for granted today, but those Christians who went before us were good and faithful souls and knew what they needed to give to God.
It was their faith, talents, energy, passion, and compassion that they gave to make the world a better place for all. In doing so they brought God’s kingdom ever closer.
Our Challenge Today
Today, as if in a relay race, it is our turn to take the baton, and in our circle of influence, move ever forward in the committed, but not quite there yet position of our faith.
I have no doubt you all pay your taxes as a citizen of this country.
But perhaps you might reflect this week on those who went before us, step by step, stone by stone, building God’s kingdom on earth with their talents and skills. Giving to God what was his.
We might not have the power and influence that William Wilberforce did. But each one of us is nevertheless endowed with our own unique and holy power and a circle of influence which can be used to make a difference in God’s kingdom today.
I invite you to reflect on your talents and strengths and identify the special and unique ability within you that could make a difference to the sure and certain hope we have in God’s Kingdom eventually reigning here on earth.
I invite you to help bring the kingdom ever closer by giving to God what is his from your pool of resources.