Giving God God's Due
Oct 22, 2017 - Rev. Dr. Steve Long
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“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” That’s the statement Jesus makes in Matt. 22:21, and it makes this a puzzling passage. Jesus seems like a politician deflecting a challenging question, and it doesn’t seem to be a very profound statement. This story seems to give us more questions than answers – “Okay, Jesus, so what belongs to God?”
To fully grasp this passage, we need to take a step back … well, a few steps back to Genesis 12 when God calls Abraham and gives the (future) Israelites a mission to be a distinct people; a people set apart from other nations for the sake of all the nations.
After the mission of God through the Israelites seemed to have failed and the 12 tribes were scattered in exile, Jesus comes on the scene when they are back in the Promised Land, but they are still occupied by the Roman Empire. This is the context in which the religious folk try to trap Jesus with the question of whether to pay taxes.
Notice in this passage what Jesus does NOT say. He neither tells them to take up arms and fight to be liberated from Rome, and thereby able to fulfill God’s mission; nor does he tell them to accommodate to Rome, paying their taxes and only privately practicing their Jewish faith.
Instead, Jesus offers a faith that distinguishes between God and Caesar. God is not Caesar, and Caesar is not a god – contrary to the empire’s claims.
While we don’t go to temples to worship emperors, these words from Jesus are still relevant to us. We continually have to discern what belongs to God and what belongs to the “empires” that threaten to take God’s place.
We must ask ourselves, “What do we owe Caesar? What do we owe God?”