Matthew 22:15-22(19th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 24—Series A)
“Stewardship—That Dirty Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 12, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 22:
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
The trap was set. Two groups normally at odds with each other came together against their common enemy. If He answered to please the Pharisees, the Herodians would have Him in their noose. If His answer pleased the Herodians, He would have fallen into snare of the Pharisees. There seems to be no way that Jesus will not be trapped in His words today, making Him guilty of crimes against the state.
The Pharisees were part of the Jewish ruling council. They were a religious party that observed strict adherence to the Law of Moses as it was interpreted by their rabbis. They were anti-Rome, anti-Caesar, and so anti-Roman tax. But they were anti-Jesus more, which accounts for their strange alliance with the Herodians. The Herodians were a minor political, non-religious party made up of supporters of the Herodian dynasty of kings which ruled under the authority of Caesar. Naturally, King Herod and his line would favor the Roman tax which benefited them. They, too, were anti-Jesus because they did not need someone running around the countryside saying things and acting like a Messiah who might insight the people to rebellion against Rome and disrupt the good thing the Herodians had going.
Thus the laying of the perfect trap for Jesus to ensnare Him with His own words. “What do you think? Is it permitted to give a tax to Caesar or not?” Jesus cannot answer without angering someone. If Jesus answered “yes,” the people of Israel who supported of Jesus might turn against Him, for they despised paying taxes to the pagan Gentile Romans whose military forces occupied their country. So the Pharisees would have Him! On the other hand, if Jesus answered “no,” then He would have opened Himself up to the charge of rebellion against the political authorities. The Herodians would have Him!
But Jesus would not be trapped. He knew their wicked intent—to deliver Him to the rule and authority of the governor. So Jesus called them out, “Why are you testing me, O hypocrites!” They are busted! Jesus knew what was going on. He did not allow Himself to fall into the snare laid out for Him. “Show Me the coin for the tax.” They brought to Jesus a denarius. On this coin was the image of Caesar along with the words, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.” Jesus showed publicly the hypocrisy of His questioners. Since they had in their possession the image and inscription of Caesar, they must agree that it is permissible to give to Caesar what they use in their daily transactions. Since the money is coined by the authority of the state, then the state has the right to govern financial concerns.
But Jesus adds to this obligation to human authorities a word that speaks to the heart of the matter of people’s obligations under God. It is not simply, “Give what your obligation requires you to give to Caesar,” but also “give what your obligation requires you to give to God.” It’s both—and. Jesus uses what the Pharisees and Herodians intended to be a trap as an opportunity to teach both groups, and the people, about what is of real importance—stewardship of God’s creation.
Here Jesus sums up His entire life and ministry, “give back . . . the things of God to God.” Jesus turned the questioning of His opponents into an opportunity to show them that as the Son of God He is giving back to God the creation in a restored condition. Jesus is the Creator of all things. He took on flesh and became fully human to re-create His creation that had become corrupted and evil through the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin. We read in Romans 5, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12 ESV) Sin not only infected every person, but the entire creation as well. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:20-21 ESV) This setting free from the corruption of sin, this re-creation of people through forgiveness and faith would take place through Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Jesus, to whom all things belong, was about to give back to God what rightfully belongs to Him: all of humanity—upon whom had been stamped God’s image—and all of creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV)
By the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross and through His triumphant resurrection from the dead, you and I and all humanity have been redeemed. We have been bought back to God from sin through the payment of Jesus’ all-sufficient blood and merit. Our sins are forgiven. We have received as a gift eternal life. Sin no longer has its claim on us. We are God’s, as is all of His creation. This is the foundation for stewardship.
Oh, there’s that word again—stewardship! But it’s not a dirty word. It’s not a word that should make a Christian grown. Stewardship means to give back the things of God to God, to return to the Lord all that belongs to Him: the gifts of creation and the new creation.
So, as Christians, do we pay taxes to the government? Yes, because it is part of the stewardship of God’s creation. God Himself in His Word tells us that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13:1) Therefore, as new creations in Christ who follow the Fourth Commandment, we should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities—all those whom God has placed over us at home, in government, at school, at work, and in the church—but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. In this way we “give what our obligation requires us to give” because God has asked us to do so in honor and love. “The authorities are ministers of God!” (Rom. 13:6) So when we pay to all what is owed to them—taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed—we are doing stewardship, giving back to God what is indeed God’s, doing so through His appointed authority.
To continue to do Christian stewardship in our lives of faith-in-action, however, is more than paying what we owe because we have to. Giving back the things of God to God, for the person re-created by faith in Christ, is not a have to. As a new creation in Christ, it is a want to. A Christian wants to pay what he or she owes to whom it is owed because that is how a Christian shows fear and love to the Lord. A Christian desires to give generously and joyfully of his or her money to support the work of the Lord in the Christian congregation because that is how a Christian shows fear and love for God. Why, then, does a Christian serve the Lord with his or her time and abilities at home, at church, at work, and in the community? Because that is how the Christian gives back to God the things of God, demonstrating fear and love for God.
It is also important to remember that as new creations through faith in Jesus Christ, you and I are also living sacrifices. By the power of the Holy Spirit, with fear, love, and trust in God above all things, we present ourselves to the Lord, giving of ourselves to God because we too belong to God. He has claimed us as His own in Christ Jesus through the waters of Baptism. He has given us everything we need to support this body and life; everything has been done by Jesus to win our forgiveness of sins and our eternal life with God at His heavenly banquet feast, as we heard last Sunday. In grateful response to the gifts of God, we give back the things of God to God, which includes ourselves, by using every aspect of our lives in His loving service. It’s time and talent and treasure; it’s hands and voices; it’s skills and crafts; it’s song and speech; it’s dollars and cents.
As the re-created people of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us, give back the things of God to God. Give back to Him your whole selves because you are His in Christ. God grant that we continue and even increase our faithful stewardship to Him. Amen.