Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 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.Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 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.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.Matthew 22:15-22
“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.” My wife will often tease me with this phrase. Tonight, we were at an outdoor Halloween party and she stole my glass of cider with a grin saying, what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.
Apart from the dynamics of marriage, where the appropriate answer is “yes, dear,” this is a pretty common mindset all the way around. What’s mine is mine is pretty obvious and widely believed. My stuff and my people and my life is all mine to do with how I want to. But the part, “what’s yours is mine” seems to be pretty common as well out there. This most often comes out in how others talk to each other and about each other’s lives on social media, gossiping, protesting, and assuming the worst about others. It is like other people lives, reputations, intentions, and futures are all fair game and can freely be smeared and tarnished when someone feels like it.
It all comes down to a question of ownership. What someone feels entitled to or feels like they can freely do with it what they want.
In our Gospel Reading today, the question again was all about ownership. The pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into saying something that would upset the crowds or get him thrown into prison. They had become jealous of His teaching and felt threatened by His Words. They believed that the temple/their church, belonged to them, not to God. They believed the people they were meant to serve belonged to them and not to God. They believed that their positions as religious leaders belonged to them and made them important, not God. They believed the money they received in the temple belonged to them, not to God. They even believed that Jesus belonged to them and they could do with Jesus whatever they wanted. Because they believed all of this belonged to them, the money, people, position, church, Jesus, they felt free to do with it whatever they wanted, lie, manipulate, hoard, slander.
So, Jesus, speaking in a way that doesn’t give in to their schemes, answers their challenge by saying, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I’ve heard this statement repeated as a blanket statement, for the division between church and state, paying taxes, and the right to bear arms. But this statement isn’t a simple one liner that is just said and that ends the conversation because it’s never that simple. Instead, this statement is meant to make us think and really struggle and strive with this question of ownership.
First, notice Jesus doesn’t say what you should do with YOUR money. He doesn’t start from the assumptions like the Pharisees did, that the money already belonged to them and they had to figure out what to do with it. No, instead, it is all of this belongs to higher authorities than you, Caesar and God, it isn’t yours to begin with at all and it isn’t yours to decide what to do with. That decision has already been made–you just have to follow through on what they tell you to do with their stuff.
This point then has some intrinsic implications. If it all belongs to either Caesar or God, then none of it belongs to you. You would be considered a caretaker of their property and one who is meant to manage and administrate it in a way that is in accordance to how they, Caesar or God, said it should be done. But none of it belongs to you.
Then the question goes much deeper because the Caesar was considered a god and divine. At their deaths, their divinity was confirmed, and they were worshipped and sacrificed to like any of the other gods in the Roman pantheon. So, the question becomes, who is God, and who is God to you, who does it really all belong to, and who are you going to follow and worship with the stuff you are a manager for.
That statement that Jesus makes is as timely today as it was then; and we are asked to contemplate and struggle with it as well. “Therefore, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Possessions is often the topic we talk about the most, but I really would like to talk about people.
Who do the people in our lives belong to? Ourselves, or to Caesar and God? (Don’t worry, I wrote to Caesar and God together for now, we’ll get to that). Do the people in our lives belong to us at all. That is a hard one. We say all of the time, my kids, my wife, my husband, my boyfriend/girlfriend, my friends, my family. But we get into all sorts of trouble thinking that way, don’t we? Especially when we want the other person to behave a certain way, or to live a certain way, or for their lives to turn out a certain way. Even with our kiddos. We can want the world for them and for them to be happy but ultimately their lives are their own. We can only do what we are responsible for, being the kind of people we want them to have in their lives, but they ultimately have to live their lives. When we don’t recognize that and we try to force our desires on them, it never works out well.
So, if the people in our lives don’t belong to us, do they belong to Caesar or to God, that is to the God of this World or the God who created all things and loves us. The difference between the two is stark. You know how the world is out there and how people treat each other. So often it is dog eats dog, trample the other person down, if they get in the way of your happiness, drop them like a hot potato. If we believe that not only the people in our lives but the strangers in the store, our co-workers, and the lady at Walmart belong to the God of this world, then that is how it looks. How many people out there believe that and treat each other accordingly.
Or, if we believe the reality of what God’s Word teaches us, that all things belong to our God who created us and loves us so much that He sent His son to die for us. Then we will look at each other with the eyes of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed everything on a cross for you and me and we will live to learn to love each other as our God has loved us. Each every one of those people out there in our world belong to our God and our God has commanded us to love them as we have been loved by Him. The same is true for us, we belong to our God who loves us as well. Treat yourself and each other as God has so lovingly cared for you.