Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Year A 2020
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The religious leaders were at it again today in our Gospel reading. They were out to entrap Jesus with a religious question, and discredit Jesus in front of everyone. And from what we just heard, the religious leaders were holding nothing back because in the text we are told that they joined forces with a very unlikely group, the notorious Herodians. As the old saying goes, politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.
I say strange bedfellows because the Pharisees and the Herodians were usually not on speaking terms. And the Pharisees and the Herodians were usually far apart on most political issues.
For you see history informs us that the Pharisees were devout Jews who lived by the law of Moses, and so as a result of their piety they were critical of the Roman oppression, and did not support the idea of paying taxes to Caesar, since they considered Caesar to be evil.
The Herodians, on the other hand, were supporters of Herod, and tended to support Rome from whom Herod gained his authority. They were a group of Jews who had compromised their faith and piety to win favors from the foreign governing power. Thus, the Herodians were in favor of paying taxes to Rome.
So, it was these two groups, who represented the opposite ends of the most important political issues of the day that joined forces to challenge Jesus in the temple. And together they planned their assault using all the tricks in the book.
Listen to how they begin their assault with deceitful flattery. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth; and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”
Even though they did not believe a word that came from their very own mouths, the two opposite groups began with false praise to trap Jesus. And then they asked: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Knowing full well that no matter how Jesus answered the question, they knew that Jesus would offend someone, and His answer would agitate the crowd. If Jesus said “NO,” the Herodians could report Him to the authorities as a traitor.
If Jesus responded “Yes,” the Pharisees could use His response to discredit Him as a Roman Sympathizer, and someone who was unfaithful to Israel.
But thankfully God wisdom is beyond our human understanding. And Jesus was able to turn this trick question into a teaching opportunity.
Seeing right through the flattery of His opponents, Jesus asked to see the coin used to pay the tax. And In response, the Pharisees and Herodians handed Jesus a denarius, a small Roman coin that the people used to pay the Roman tax.
Unfortunately for the Pharisees and the Herodians, this was a bad choice. Because on the coin was a portrait of the emperor crowned with a laurel wreath, which was the universal sign for divinity.
And the coin also bore an inscription, which read: ‘Tiberius Caesar, majestic son of the majestic god, and high priest.’
The coin that the Pharisees and Herodians themselves produced contained the image of Caesar and declared to all who held it in their hand the imperial proclamation that Caesar is divine.
Lifting the coin up for all to see, Jesus asked them “Whose head is this, and whose title?” In other words, whose image is on the coin. And the Pharisees and Herodians responded “The emperors.”
And then Jesus said to them “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are God’s.”
In other words, give the coin to Caesar because the coin bears his image and belongs to him; and give to God that which bears His image because that which bears His image belongs to God.
The Pharisees and the Herodians were amazed and probably a bit frustrated when they heard His answer because they had been taught since a very early age that humankind had been created in the image of God.
The first Book of Moses clearly states that “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27
Each one of us, therefore, carries within us the image of God. We are made in His likeness. God’s sacredness and creativity are reflected in us.
One interesting way to understand how we are created in God’s image is by comparing this concept to the times when we hold up a mirror and we see our reflection. The image we see is an image of ourselves. The image is not us but a reflection.
The same is true with God. When God looks upon us, God sees His image in us, but God also knows that the image is a reflection of Himself. Nevertheless, because we were made in His image, we belong to God. Unfortunately, we have blemished His image in us and clouded up the reflection with our sin. Our sin clouds God’s reflection in us. Even so, we have been created to represent God through our actions, and through our thoughts, and through our words so that others may see the kindness, and love, and grace that God has brought into our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our world today, you and I may be the only image of God that many people will see as they go about their daily activities. And how is this possible???
Let me put it this way. One thing that always amazes me is when I look at young children and see in them the likeness of their parents.
A few days ago, I was talking with a young person when I noticed that the young boy looked just like his dad.
I could not believe my eyes. The way he titled his head, the way he spoke, the way he stood all reminded me of his father. Even though the boy was physically not his father, he certainly bore the image of him.
Having been created in the image of God, we were created to be a reflection of God’s Redeeming Activity in this world. Because we bear the image of God, we have been called to live into that image each and every day of our lives.
Today Jesus told the Pharisees and Herodians to give to Caesar that which bears his image, and to give to God that which bears God’s image. The coin belonged to Caesar because it bore his image. We belong to God because we bear His image.
The Pharisees and Herodians were put in their proper place that day in front of everyone. They had forgotten what a blessing it is to be created in the image of God. They had forgotten the joy and privilege of being a part of the ministry that God has entrusted to us.
May we respond with joy and thanksgiving for the gifts that God has given to us. And let us rejoice that we are part of God’s Redeeming Activity. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty God, you created the heavens and the earth, and humankind in your image. Teach us to discern your hand in all your works and to serve you with joy and thanksgiving. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.