Sermon preached by
Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22
In recent weeks we've all been inundated with brochures, pamphlets and the manifestos of the candidates for the Mayor of Bedford.
One of the points which everyone touched on was what they were going to do with our taxes and how they were going to use them better than they have been used in the past.
It seem that in every election these days, local or national Taxes are a big thing.
It was the same way in Jesus' time.
There were 3 major taxes the people had to pay:
- a land tax of grain, oil and wine
- an income tax of about 1% of their income
- a poll tax, about a days wages, paid with the tribute coin
It was the poll tax that Jesus was being questioned about.
Ever since the Romans occupied Israel there had been resistance to them. One of the earliest resistance movements of Jesus' time against the Romans was led by Judas Maccabaeus, was a tax revolt.
Normally taxes were a subject that divide the Pharisees and the Herodians:
The Herodians, who owed their power to Caesar, were content to pay for that power through taxes.
The Pharisees resented the payment of taxes because it was against their religious convictions'
So in some ways it's strange that it's a subject on which the Pharisees and Herodians collude together.
But recently Jesus has called the Pharisees discontented sons, evil tenants and ill fated guests at God's wedding banquet and have now set out to trap Him. So they collude with their traditional enemies and send their disciples to Jesus to ask Him the question about the Poll Tax - should there be a Poll Tax rebellion?
Should we give taxes to Caesar or not?
Jesus asks them to show Him a coin and asks them whose image is on the coin.
They reply "Caesar's" (Caesar Tiberius) and Jesus responds to them with the reply we are all familiar with, give back to Caesar's what is Caesar's and give back to God that which is God's.
Jesus changes the word which is used.
They have asked him about giving, He speaks about restoration
It's a reply which is loaded with political and religious overtones and stops them in their tracks for a number of reasons . . .
Because both parties had something to restore to Caesar, namely taxes.
But both parties had something to restore to God.
For the Pharisees this was true religion, the very thing they professed and the very subject on which Jesus continually challenged them.
For the Herodians it was perhaps a challenge to restore the promised Land to God and His people (from the Romans).
Look at the image and restore accordingly.
It's the same word that Jesus has used when the tenants refuse to restore the harvest to the vineyard's owner - for Jesus it's a continuation of the story.
For the Pharisees, they knew that according to their scripture (Gen 1:26,27) all people are made in God's image - all will be restored to God.
Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans, Herodians and the Pharisees (among others) was exactly what He was now challenging the Pharisees and Herodians to do: He looked at the image of God in each one of us and restored accordingly, to God.
Both the Herodians and the Pharisees had been given or had assumed a position of power and authority which they had abused to a greater or lesser extent. Turned what should have been for the good of the community for personal gain.Often one of the key criticisms of those in authority, local or national.
Jesus demonstrated the model for those in such positions, in some ways summarised by the phrase from Hosea 6:8
What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God
It's perhaps a model we should use as we involve ourselves in the local community. To have our say in the running of Bedford, to ensure that it's run justly and with compassion. But to do so walking humbly before God, not abusing the positions we find ourselves in, not misusing our wealth and positions. Always looking to God for His guidance.
Looking at the image of God in those around us, however fractured and broken that image sometime can be, and restoring accordingly, restoring as we see God in them.