Proper 24 – Year A
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; (or Isaiah 45:1-9; Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
“Everyone born into capitalism has incurred a debt. Give Caesar his due.” – Camille Paglia
The Pharisees plot to entrap Jesus. They don’t face him themselves, but rather send their disciples, their flunkies, to ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. He wittingly says that if Caesar’s head is embossed on the coin “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We might think there is no problem with paying taxes, Tea Party aside. The taxes that support government give us many benefits: paved and lighted streets, public libraries, fire departments, police protection, public school teachers, public health programs, etc. However, in Jesus’ day in Israel the tax went to an occupying foreign power, and not for people programs, unless one considered military protection as a people program. The Pharisees may not have been happy with Caesar’s rule. But others, such as the Jewish high priests, were content to play along, pay along, and profit. For Jesus all this misses the point. There is absolutely no indication in the New Testament that Jesus was in the least interested in overthrowing the oppressive government. He was much more systemically subversive than that. He did not dualistically divide the religious realm from the secular realm. Everything belongs to God. Therein lies the wisdom of his answer about giving to God what belongs to God. Some have used the other part of the passage about giving to Caesar what belongs to him as an injunction for not mixing religion and politics. Why is it that most often only right wing conservative religious people believe in the mix? Others would do well to hold up to government the Christian beliefs of caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, distributive justice. These are the moral issues that were at the heart of Jesus’ agenda. The authentic Christian agenda is seldom found in the far right. And since all, even government, belongs to God, let us give to God what belongs to God.
Matthew 22:16 says “. . . for you do not regard people with partiality.” The original Greek says “. . . for you do not look into the face of people.”
Flip the embossed coin.
Twirl it through God’s own fresh air,
landing where it ought.