Matthew 22:15-22, Pentecost 21A
The Gospel of Matthew tells of a time when a particular Jewish political group called the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus by asking a question about taxes. It appears there were two government/religious entities competing for the authority to tax the populous.
There was the Jewish community who were responsible for the care for widows, orphans and the support of the Jewish governing body called the Sanhedrin. Then there was the Roman Emperor who led the occupying force.
When asked, Jesus took a coin which had the likeness of the Emperor on it. He then said, “Give to the Emperor what is his, to God what is God’s.”
Jesus is saying there are two entities claiming possession of Israel. There was the Roman Emperor and God who claim possession of the country and therefore claim the right to charge a tax.
It appears there are 3 ways a person, government or deity can claim possession of something.
1. Ownership: God made everything therefore everything is God’s.
2. Tenancy: God allows us to live in the creation God owns. We are renting from God.
3. Assets: The Government allows citizens to hold a deed to land. The deed can be traded and therefore can hold value.
Is it possible that Jesus is explaining to the Pharisees that God is the owner, and has given the Jewish peoples the right to be tenants of the land with the responsibility to care for it and its peoples? In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people have failed to keep control over the land and allowed the Romans to claim it as an asset. Therefore, the Romans can assess a tax for allowing the Jews the right to live on the land.
The Jewish people belong to God, therefore the Sanhedrin can assess the people a tax for the care of orphans, widows and the Temple.
What does all this have to do with us? We do not live in Jesus’ time. We do not live in the Promise Land. We live in a Democracy where supposedly the people are the rulers – not an Emperor.
We do live in a land where the government has eminent domain. We own that government for the provision of basic needs such as protection, education, a certain level of personal care, and an infrastructure of roads and utilities. Taxes and fees are owed to cover the cost of those needs. Under this system of government, we are allowed to hold assets which we can use for profit and to pay taxes.
Then, there is what God requires of us. First, there is the planet and the rest of the universe within which we own our very existence. Then, there are the spiritual and emotional elements of life with which we depend for our sanity and spiritual health. God has allowed us resources that we use to support churches where we can worship and learn the basic tenants of love, respect and compassion upon which we can build a safe environment where humanity can nurture intelligence and society.
Join us this Sunday in one of our worship services where we consider who we owe for our lives.