Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.
In the King James version, “Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s.”
It seems that people can be somewhat divided on what exactly belongs to Caesar.
Witness the new legislation our Canadian Liberal government is trying to pass, which they say will close tax loopholes for rich entrepreneurs.
There has been a lot of pushback and a lot of criticism around these proposed changes.
And if you are like me, you might not even understand what these changes are.
On the face of it, my initial reaction was this: If very wealthy people are getting better taxes rates than most Canadians just because they incorporate, it doesn’t seem very fair. Cutting the loophole that seemingly allows paying income to family members who do not work, so that that income is taxed at a lower rate, seems like a good idea.
Delving into it a little more closely, one hears another side of an argument that says that if we want small businesses to grow and thrive and create jobs, if we tax them too much, it will inhibit the growth of jobs, and keep people from being entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, entrepreneurs do not have the same protections that salaried employees do, and they have to create their own pension plans, and that usually comes from a business that grows in value.
And further to that it takes a lot of risk to start a business, so there has to be a good reward.
My point isn’t to side with the changes particularly or be against them…
but to point out that the whole idea of what is fair in taxes is not obvious or easy to understand.
One criticism I think that could be made with these Canadian tax changes, is that these things are complicated and many people have difficulty understanding them.
So we may all differ with the idea of what belongs to Caesar, or the Emperor, or to the Canadian government.
What things should be taxed on not taxed? Some provinces do not tax children’s clothing or books or heating oil.
What belongs to Caesar?
In some jurisdictions around the world the government controls public utilities and many other business interests like oil and gas, or mining.
In some provinces that government runs the liquor stores.
Some argue that the more government control and intervention, and the more taxes, the more that things can be fair and safe and equitable.
Others argue that the less government and the less intervention and the less taxes, give citizens greater freedom, encourage business growth and creates a wealthier society.
Whew! It is hard to know what belongs to Caesar.
And it was hard to know what belonged to Caesar in Jesus’ day.
And that was complicated by the fact that Israel did not get to choose their leader.
Caesar was not elected. Rome wasn’t the party who won the election.
Rome occupied Israel and enforced taxes and brought in their coins and money and Caesar wasn’t chosen by the people he was a dictator.
So along come the Pharisees and the Herodians, and they decide to trap Jesus. Now normally these two groups were opposed to each other, the Herodians being a political group that supported the descendants of King Herod the Great, and wanted one of them to rule in Israel, and the Pharisees being a religious party committed to a strict observance of religious law.
But today they conspire together to ask Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. And it was all a big trap.
If Jesus said that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, then the average person would not be impressed, because Caesar was consider an enemy and a foreign oppressive power that trampled upon Jewish religion.
For instance even the coin that bore the image of Caesar was considered to be sacrilege for the commandments forbade making a graven image and worshipping the image…
And here is the image of Caesar right here on a coin.
How could it be lawful to pay taxes to a blasphemer?
Even to hold the coin was considered wrong. And the Romans insisted that taxes and marketing be done in Roman coins, so the Jews had to break the commandments all the time.
But if Jesus said it was not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, he could be denounced to Roman authorities for treason.
It was a trap.
But Jesus not only evaded the trap, he issued a kind of challenge.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
One way to interpret the first part of that is to say that maybe we need to give to our country, to our province, to our government a certain amount of allegiance.
Some would say that Christians should not avoid politics but be involved.
Maybe we should go home today and find out more about the proposed changes to businesses and learn about them so we can be informed and made good decisions. Far be it from me to say if the changes are right or wrong or a little of both, but maybe to say that being educated, informed and involved is a good thing,
Maybe we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s by being good citizens and working for healthy change within the system.
But others might hear Jesus’ words as saying: we do not capitulate to the emperors of this world, who often enforce systems that take from the poor and give to the rich, who use violence and force to get their way and these emperors are not always emperors or politicians, but could be organizations like the NRA or Big Corporations who lobby government, or could be systems like the Industrial Military Complex, or Fashion industry, or the Sports industry, or the Entertainment Industry…
who might be sending out anti-gospel messages that imply what counts is money, or looks, or national security, or material possessions…and not love and equality and compassion.
Are you not shocked when one of the most powerful men in Hollywood is exposed for being a sexual predator and for years and years it has been a well-known secret and nothing was done.
And I suppose the question is: “How much do we let these Caesars influence our lives, and how much do they inhibit us from loving one another?”
But yet another tack would for me to preach a stewardship sermon and tell you that in the bible lots of times a tithe or ten percent of what one made, was given to the religious authorities, and to encourage us to give to God what is God’s,
…and that maybe we should look at what we give in offerings and consider whether in our financial affairs we are really giving to God. Maybe we should up our offerings.
And I think those interpretations have some merit, but I want to get back to where Jesus asks for the coin.
“Whose likeness is on it?” Jesus asks
“Whose image is on it?”
They reply Caesar’s.
Now maybe good, scripture reading, Jews would tweak with the words “image” or “likeness.”
I am sure everyone here remembers the scripture verse From Genesis chapter 1:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness;
Where is the image and likeness of Caesar found?
On a coin.
Where is the image and likeness of God found? In us.
Jesus calls the Pharisees and Herodians hypocrites. The literal meaning of a hypocrite was that of an actor who put on a false face.
Jesus accuses them of wearing a false likeness, a false image.
Instead of being the image of God which is love, they more closely resemble Caesar’s image of domination, control, force, shame, and punishment.
In our Old Testament text today, there is this interesting story of Moses who wants to see God’s face. He wants to see and experience God directly…
But God doesn’t allow this. Moses has to hide in a cleft of a rock and see God indirectly. Moses can only see God’s back.
It is a strange story, and one that is hard for us modern people to get a grasp on, for we don’t see God’s face or back, or any part of God, and most of us don’t seem to talk to God directly like Moses did.
In fact, maybe one of the number one questions people ask is this? Is God real?
I hear it from people who don’t go to church, many of them were brought up in church, but they question the reality of God and what God does, rejecting the idea of a God who controls everything in this world, yet thinking at times there might be something more.
But I hear this even from people in the church, who would like to have an experience of God that would incontrovertibly prove that God is real and present.
But the point of the Moses story is maybe that we don’t experience God directly, but indirectly, that we don’t see and talk to God like we see and talk to our best friend…
So when people ask me if God is real I say. “Is love real?”
And when they say “yes”
I say any time you see love, see compassion, see forgiveness, see inclusion, see sharing, see truth….that is God.
You do not see God, but what you can see is the image of God…
And that is us. And every time we help someone in need, visit a prisoner, forgive our neighbour, reconcile with an enemy, sacrifice for a loved one, include a stranger or an exile, be hospitable, say a kind word…
Then we look into the face of God in us.
My brother George put a post on facebook the other day.
We’re surrounded by so much negativity, hate, and division these days, that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how much beauty we still have around us. It’s easy to forget that there’s an enormous amount of love out there, each and every day. There are still so many doing good, spreading joy, helping others, and being selfless.
George isn’t into organized religion, but his quote is very spiritual and very Christlike. …the likeness of Christ. For that is where I believe we find God. In people who love, and do good, and spread joy, who help others, or who are selfless.
Many years ago in rural New Brunswick I was helping out at a vacation bible school. And I led the group that was the meanest. The eight year olds.
A dozen kids. The lesson was about Creation and I got this good idea. I got the gangstas together and I said. I have a bell and I am going to ring it and when I ring the bell, you go outside and find something that reminds you of God. When I ring the bell the second time, you come back and we will share what we have found. OK.?
Everybody said OK and I rang the bell and they scattered like leaves in the fall. Now I suddenly got the idea not to ring the bell the second time, but little angel on my shoulder beat out the little demon and I rang the bell.
In they came.
What do you have? I have a rock. What does that tell you about God?
God is strong like the rock. Good. That’s Good.
What do you have? I have a flower. What does that tell you about God? God is beautiful like the flower. Good. That’s really Good.
What do you have? Blueberries. God feeds the birds and us.
Hey that’s wonderful. This was actually working really well.
One boy was standing there. What do you have? He was holding the hand of his little sister. I thought his sister was upset and he was just looking out for her. What do you have? “My sister.”
Wasn’t that something? We were thinking about rocks and flowers and this little terror thought of his sister.
He maybe didn’t know how to explain it but he knew……. Holding his hand… standing next to him was the image of God.
Think about that….Sitting next to you is the image of God.
Sitting behind you is the image of God.
Sitting in front of you is the image of God.
When you look in the mirror… the image of God
The question we ask ourselves is this: whose image are we best representing…
The image of Caesar… …of power, control, manipulation, taking and violence.
Or the image Christ… …of love, inclusion, compassion and forgiveness.