19th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Oct 19, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
It is commonly said, you should not discuss money, religion, sex, or politics in polite company…for some this is even true of family gatherings if you want to keep any semblance of peace. But Jesus doesn’t follow this advice. In fact in this morning’s reading, he incorporates three of those topics into one lesson! He links faith and taxes, which is really itself a link of money and politics. He suggests that faith informs both our relationship with money and our participation in government.
But he doesn’t really tell us what to do. He doesn’t even really tell the people he was talking to at the time what exactly to do. There is no “yes” or “no” in response to the question “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
In fact he couldn’t safely answer, that was the whole point of the Herodians and the Pharisees approaching him together. These two groups, one political/one religious, one pro-Rome/one-anti, agree on nothing, expect that Jesus is a threat to them…and you know what they say: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
So these two groups ban together to entrap Jesus. They pick this topic of taxes—this tangle of religion, money, and politics—so that if Jesus says don’t pay taxes: Rome will punish him, and if he says do pay taxes: the temple authorities will have something with which to discredit him as a religious teacher—as a conspirer with the Roman occupation.
But being the cleaver man he is, Jesus instead of being entrapped entraps his attackers. First, he asks to see a denarius—the coin used to pay the census tax, proving that he himself doesn’t have any Roman coins on Temple property with which to pay this tax. And then when his opponents produce a coin, he answers their question with a question: “whose image and title is on this coin”? The answer is of course the emperor Caesar, and the inscription reads: “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” The coin claims divinity for Caesar Augustus and includes a graven image—both big no-no’s in Jewish Law.
But Jesus doesn’t actually go into this, he simply replies “give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus has done it again…he found this great way to answer without actually answering an impossible question. On the surface it sounds like he is saying that people of faith should submit to authority, but at the same time reminds the crowd that everything is made by God.
Jesus wasn’t the only one to talk about the intersection of faith and politics thought. On the topic of government, Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism section on the petition of the Lord’s Prayer “Give us today our daily bread”:
For though we have received of God all good things in abundance we are not able to retain any of them or use them in security and happiness, if He did not give us a permanent and peaceful government. For where there are dissension, strife, and war, there the daily bread is already taken away, or at least checked.
Therefore it would be very proper to place in the coat-of-arms of every pious prince a loaf of bread instead of a lion, or a wreath of rue, or to stamp it upon the coin, to remind both them and their subjects that by their office we have protection and peace, and that without them we could not eat and retain our daily bread.
Therefore they are also worthy of all honor, that we give to them for their office what we ought and can, as to those through whom we enjoy in peace and quietness what we have, because otherwise we would not keep a farthing; and that, in addition, we also pray for them that through them God may bestow on us the more blessing and good.
Luther wants to see us uphold governments that maintain peace and ensure proper distribution of the daily bread that God provides. He even goes as far to suggest that a loaf of bread be stamped on all coins to remind both citizen and official of this intended role of government. Just like honoring mother and father, we are only responsible for this if the honoree is fulfilling its proper role. However, since we now live in a democracy, some of that responsibility now falls on us—we are to not only to pay taxes, but to make sure that that income is being used to keep peace and distribute daily bread.
But there is also the second part of that Jesus said—“render onto God what is God’s”.
And what is God’s?—Everything
What image are we stamped with?—God’s
What title applies to us?—Child of God
So although we live in the world, we are not of this world.
We are called to be “good” citizens to “good” government, but we are called to also constantly remember whose we are, what image we reflect, and what title we carry. And so we must remember this especially when we are thinking about things like how we spend our money and how we vote.
This week I attended an event put on by the Massachusetts Council of Churches, at which we reviewed the four upcoming ballot questions. We were not told how to vote, but instead invited to think theologically about how we might vote. And that is all I can do for you. And really all Jesus does for us this morning. He does not tell us who to manage our money, or how to vote, or even the people questioning him whether to pay the census tax or not, but only reminds us that all we are and all we have is stamped with the image of God. He reminds us that all we are and all we have came from God and will ultimately return to God. He reminds us that because of this, what we do with all we are and all we have matters to God. Our faith greatly impacts our finances and our politics.
Instead of telling us what to do, he teaches us all we need to know in order to figure out what we should do. And that is what we did at this event. We thought about (a) who would benefit from the ballot question passing or not, (b) who is left vulnerable with and with the ballot question passing, (c) who is funding the campaign for each side of the question. How is your faith guiding you to vote? Before we head into the voting book we must ask ourselves where our loyalties lie—whether they are with the one with whose image we are stamped or elsewhere.
But thankfully, no matter what we decide—how we spend our money or what we do in the voting booth—the image doesn’t wear off, the title becomes no less true. You are a child of God, made in the image of God, you are God’s—along with the rest of creation.
So let us rejoice with the heavens, and be joyful with the fields, and shout for joy with the trees, and with all creation! For all the eye can see if God’s and nothing can change that. Amen!
 Matthew 22:17, NRSV.
 Martin Luther’s Large Catechism