Today’s gospel continues our journey through the later chapters of Matthew. Jesus and the disciples have arrived in Jerusalem and Jesus has already served notice to the religious authorities that he is in town by throwing the money changers out of the temple. These well dressed and fancy robed leaders start to watch him closely.
In today’s story one of these groups called Pharisees, get together and plot how they might trap him in his own words. The Pharisees were similar to a political party or perhaps a denomination within a religion. They find themselves constantly fighting against the Sadducees for influence over the Jews.
Even though they do not like each other, it seems they have become united in their opposition to what they view as a great threat to them- Jesus the Christ.
In today’s gospel the Pharisee’s take a crack at destroying Jesus’ credibility. They think they have the perfect question that will trap him.
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor (Caesar) or not?”
If he answers NO- then the Romans might take interest in this preacher from Nazareth, arrest him and take care of the problem for them.
If Jesus answers YES- then the Jewish people will turn against him as they hate paying this tribute to Caesar.
Jesus knows they are trying to entrap him. He calls them hypocrites to their faces and answers with what has become one of the most famous quotations in the New Testament:
“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
The passage ends by saying that the Pharisee’s leave- marvelling at his answer.
I believe this verse of scripture is often misunderstood or perhaps under appreciated. This because we might also walk away after hearing this brilliant comeback of Jesus’ and we too marvel at the answer BUT do we fail to look at what Jesus is actually saying here.
What does it mean to give “to God the things that are God’s.”
Is it this one hour a week in church going to mass? Is it a time of prayer each day? Is it giving a bit of our worldly goods to charity?
The power in the answer to the Pharisee’s question is that when Jesus says Give to God the things that are God he knows that everything belongs to God.
What does that mean? It means more than we can possibly cover this morning so here is an example. I want to use you young folks to make this point.
How do you give your life totally to God at even a young age? Perhaps you are in the upper grades of elementary school or high school. In almost every school in the world there is a boy/or girl who could have written this poem:
I Am Just A Boy (Short Form of Poem)
I am just a boy who didn’t have any choices about the hell I have endured.
I am just a boy who wanted to make friends and be part of the team.
I am just a boy who desperately wanted to share my story but had to suffer in silence for fear of more torment.
I am just a boy who wanted a friend and confidant.
I’m just a boy who will leave elementary school the same way I started, wanting a friend, wanting to feel accepted wanting to be “one of the gang”.
I am just a boy who had to be brave and pretend that none of this hurt.
I am just a boy who is tired of waiting for it to stop, waiting for adults to make kids accountable, waiting for a better tomorrow.
I am just a boy who was wishing his childhood away because I hear that adults don’t behave that way.
I am just a boy who loves life and laughter and all the things that other kids like and for that I am not different.
I am just a boy who hopes that one kid understands the impact of being so mean and so unkind.
I am just a boy who wonders if they are being mistreated and that is why they are so careless with their words that cut through my soul.
I’m just a boy who promises to never ever treat anyone like this.
I am just a boy who promises to raise children, to be kind and thoughtful and tough enough to stand up for those that don’t.
I am just a boy.
Some of you may be this person. You may have no friends and are being excluded by the in crowd. Please know you are not alone and that there is always hope. Hope especially comes in the arms of your brother Jesus who also suffered and was abandoned by his friends to face his darkest time alone.
Dedicate your life to God and while it may take time your purpose will become clear.
Perhaps some of you hear today are the bully. Jesus wants you to know that hurting others to make yourself feel better is a fool’s game. In the long term you will find yourself abandoned and lonely.
Most of you, however, are sitting on the sidelines. Happy to have the friends you have, willing to look the other way when a weaker member of the class is selected for torment- Just glad it is not you.
The passage today is calling on you to give yourself to God completely. Here is an opportunity to walk up to a boy or a girl, who could very well have written this poem and extend your hand in friendship to them. To Give to God the things that are God’s means you must do this even if that means you will no longer be invited to eat at the same table as the cool kids. Even if this means that you might become the target for the bullies.
You are just not a boy or girl – You are a son/daughter of God and a brother/sister of Jesus. When Jesus tells you to give to God the things that are God’s this means you cannot simply walk away when one of your brothers or sisters is in pain.
It turns out the Jesus marvelous saying Give to God the things that are God’s is much more than an answer to a trick question.
It is a call to live our lives 100% of the time dedicated to our God.