Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch

22 Pentecost, 16 October 2005
Matthew 22:15-22, Walter W. Harms

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The Pull

Did you ever notice how many different people, ideas, notions pull at you? You children (of all ages) want the full attention of both Dad and Mom. Well, at least most of the time. At school you often want the teacher's attention to help you, Perhaps more often you hope she isn't paying attention to you. At recess and lunch time, you want friends to pay attention to you, to play with you, to want to be with you.

A marriage partner wants the full loyalty and attention of the other.
Listen when she talks or who won't get what you want. Pay attention to what he wants or you find yourself ignored.

The boss wants our full effort at work, even when we have a hangover from spending too much time the night before watching the game(s) on TV. We are so aware of that phenomenon that we say: "Don't buy a car that was built on Monday."

Every one clamors for the money in our pockets. "Give me this," "buy me that," "I need money for.." "You deserve. . . ." The inside of us puts pressure on us: "I need better clothes, more eating out, a better car, a flashier home in a better neighborhood", and it goes on and on.

Who gets my time? Who gets my attention? Who gets my loyalty? Who gets me? Yes, finally who gets me?

The Often Answer

We often solve the forces, thundering at me for attention, money, myself with Scarlet O'Hara famous words at the end of the movie, Gone with the Wind: "I'll think about that another time." In fact, we are seduced by so many conflicting pressures that we have become people who simply, as the expressions has it, "go with the flow." The "squeaking wheel get the oil." Whatever needs it today, gets it. And we march to whatever drum roll hits us that day.

I do believe that at least part of the cause for so much malaise, so much depression, so many unresolved situations are present in each of us is that we have never ever resolved in our lives, who gets what!

And the conflict boils on!

The "Jesus" Answer

Jesus, I believe in his answer to this conniving, maliciously posturing double minded persons, gives us the answer. It is those famous, remarkable, memorable words of our Lord, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God, the things that are God's!"

Who gets what?

Caesar gets what is his. God gets what is his. Neither are neglected or depreciated. Neither are put down as unworthy. One is not rated as superior to the other. Both have (dare I use the word?) legitimate
claims on our lives, hearts, money, and time!

At His Time

I think is might be helpful if we look at political situation of Jesus'
time. Here's the kind of situation that brought this question to Jesus, even though it was not from people seeking "truth" from our Lord. Here why the "who gets what" question was asked.

Around the year 6 B.C., the Roman government which occupied Palestine imposed a tax on those it controlled. It was a "census" tax. Each adult, both man and woman had to pay this tax. It was about a day's wage, a denarius we have heard about a couple of Sundays ago.

To most of the Jews, this was offensive. Their God-given father-land was dominated by these, these Romans! This tax fired a nationalism in the hearts of the ordinary people. Many wanted to openly revolt. The Zealots resisted every effort on the part of the Romans to occupy the home-land. The Zealots were like the insurgents in Iraq, constantly nipping at the heals, biting, wounding, often killing, embarrassing the Roman commanders.

Finally, the Romans had enough. They wiped out the hot bed, the center of all this trouble. They leveled the city of Jerusalem, killed so many that the blood ran ankle deep in the streets, and once and for all, ended this conflict.

There were those who got along quite well with the Romans. This party we think was the Herodians who came with the Pharisees' disciples to Jesus. (But we really don't know anything about them at all.) They enjoyed the Romans, had a truce going that brought stability and prosperity.

The Conflict

The Pharisees felt paying the census tax which went right straight to the coffers of the imperial Caesar in Rome was a act of disloyalty to God. So regardless of how Jesus answered their snotty question, "Should we pay taxes or not?" they had him. And that is what they wanted. They wanted to discredit him with the people who hated the Romans or get him in deep trouble with the government as a person fomenting open rebellion against Rome itself!

The Resolution

Jesus knows their hearts. He calls them what they are, certainly a call for change. He asks for a coin. They produce a Roman coin, and the Roman tax could only be paid with a Roman coin. It had stamped on it, the image of Caesar himself. The inscription on it read: "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest."

Now remember that this graven image was forbidden by the Commandments of the Lord God, and that to the Jews and the early Christians still suffering persecution and worse from these Romans, there was no such thing as other "divine" beings, but the Lord God alone.

They admit they use these kind of blasphemous coins. They thereby admit to the legitimacy of Rome, at least to a certain extent. And Jesus gives them their answer.

It was not a yes or a not. It was not, as I recently heard on TV, an answer which would make the show go longer. It was a genuine answer.

The word "render" can mean "give back," as in paying back a debt.
This word has the weight of saying very simply: It belongs to Caesar.
Give him what is his!

Who gets what? Caesar gets what is his.

Translation into Our Times

It means that we are to give to our government what is theirs. Pay your taxes. We do not have to agree with all the uses that are made of those taxes. That responsibility belongs in our society both to us and to those elected to make those decisions. We should not protest uses we consider immoral.

Those includes: wasteful pork-barrel uses to win votes; using tax dollars to promote or sanction immoral behaviors; taxes not used to help others in this country or elsewhere in the world, while we spend monies killing others. These and many more uses of our taxes should be protested. But as long as we live in whatever country we live, we should give that Caesar what is his due!

One thing is for sure. We must take some responsibility for decisions made and not give in to the temptations to have others decide everything for us, as to "who gets what" as these Pharisees and Herodians did.

The Other Part

What do you make of the other half of Jesus' statement: "Give back to God what is his"?

We cannot give God anything that he does not already own. The claim to which we need our final and only total allegiance to is the claim of God upon us. Should we fail to ignore God's claim upon our total loyalty, we use the name of our Lord in vain.

God is our ultimate Caesar, and our Lord is one finally in control and we need to "render unto him that which is his." That is we need to give ourselves, totally to him.

Well, don't start the hissing and booing now. We can't give ourselves to him, for the imagination of our hearts is evil from the get-go. We claim the world as our oyster. We build our towers of power to heaven and believe we can take over God's claim of rule over us and the world.

We, with as much reluctance as possible, dole out our attention, our time, our God-given wealth to others wanting it all for ourselves, and resenting those who rob us what we think and consider "mine, mine, mine, it's mine!" Do you wonder why an OT prophet asked the question: "Would you rob God?"

The Image of God

If on a Roman coin was the image of the imperial dictator, where do we find the "image of God"? We do not have to scurry around, scratching our heads wondering where it might be. Turn in the direction of a person sitting next to you, look at the persons in the cars that pass you, see those in the shopping malls, the mega marts, the grocery emporiums, see the image of God again and again.

I have said many times. You cannot hug God. You can't give God a dime. You can't demonstrate in concrete form love for God. But you can love all those made in the image and likeness of God. You can hug them. You can give to them in their need. You can demonstrate to them you are vitally interested.
You can give them your attention and time.

And in loving them you love our Lord Jesus who in flesh and blood has shown us the image and likeness of God!

Why Still the "Who Gets What" Conflict

We still have the conflicts. Careers pull in opposite directions.
Teenagers struggle with peer pressures. We conduct just ever so slightly dishonest business to take care of our families. We spoil our children because we feel guilty.

We are somewhat numb from all of this. But it remains, vocal or in steely silence: how can I decide who gets what of me?

The Final Answer

The answer is simple, but not easy. It means that we struggle with the answer. It means we admit our giving in to the demands of the imperial Caesar of self more often that either giving in or even thinking about the Lordship of our Christ.

It means that we struggle with our own culpability, neither denying it nor excusing it. We lay it at the feet of the Lord, and say, "Lord, have mercy." Prostrate before the Lord, we entreat our Lord, who raises us and tells us to rise, walk, serve and praise the Lord.

It means we believe this Jesus, not try to trick him, put him aside and simply refuse to struggle with "who gets what." No, we live in this world, but we know that we are on a march to our true home land, which for sure is not the U.S.A.

We might even at the best or it is the worst of moments, rejoice. Yes, rejoice that we are surrounded by the images of God who need us and want us. Yes, rejoice that others are rendering to God our Savior, in their serving us.

We do not say it enough: We have no king but the King of the Jews, Jesus of the cross and tomb, and its emptiness three days later.

May our hearts always know "who gets what" because we know and trust the only Lord of all lords, and King of all kings. Amen.

Walter W. Harms, retired pastor
Austin, TX, U. S. A.