Today is an all-ages Sunday at St. Albans, so our reflection on the gospel is a bit different - part-drama with the children, part sermon. Here's the 'script':
Gather children at front.
Divide into Jesus plus three groups:
Jesus: Sitting in the Temple, teaching.
Pharisees: Religious authorities. Plotting to trap Jesus. Hated Jesus. Also hated Rome. Disliked the Herodians
Herodians: Supporters of Herod, the puppet king appointed by Rome. Collaborators, complicit with Rome. They collected the tax. They didn’t like the Pharisees. They don’t like people like it when people like Jesus cause a disturbance and gather crowds together.
Crowd (Ordinary folk): They like Jesus, think he’s a prophet. They hate Roman Empire, they hate the tax.
Pharisees: Come up with a question to trap Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay the tax to the emperor or not?” But for the trap to work, they need to bring the Herodians along.
If Jesus says yes, people will be upset and leave, so that the Pharisees can arrest Jesus.
If Jesus says no don’t pay the tax, well that’s treason and the Herodians would arrest him.
So first the Pharisees go to meet the Herodians to convince them to come with them to see Jesus and to trap him. Then the Pharisees and Herodians go and see Jesus together, and they ask their trick question.
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
And Jesus replies: “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites?
(Reflect on hypocrite: hiding who you really are, putting on a mask)
“Show me the coin used for the tax.”
And someone pulls out a denarius. (take out coin) And Jesus asks them, whose image is this and whose title?
Have a look at the coin, what do you see? The emperor’s head engraved on one side, and an inscription in Latin that says that the emperor is divine, a god.
And all of a sudden, you know what’s going through people’s heads? They’re probably remembering the ten commandments. Do you remember how the ten commandments start?
And God spoke all these words, saying,
I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
The Pharisees, who are the religious leaders, have brought a coin with a graven image of the Roman emperor who claims to be God into the Temple, breaking the first two of the Ten Commandments. Does that seem hypocritical to you? (Saying one thing but doing another?) Yup!
And so Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the thing that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Take that coin and get it out of here. This house, the temple should be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves. Give that coin back to the emperor. Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.
But give to God the things that are God’s.
What do you think Jesus means by that? What things are God’s? (allow answers)
Or let me put it another way: if the coin belongs to the emperor because it has the emperor’s image on it, what belongs to God? What is it that bears God’s image?
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;
You are made in God’s image. So are you, and you, and you.
And we can look in that in two ways:
First, I am made in God’s image. So when Jesus says “give to God the things that are God’s”, I am one of those things. I belong to God. And so Jesus wants me to give myself to God. I bear God’s image, so I have to act like God would, the way Jesus shows us. I’m being called here to do what God wants me to do, to live justly, to show mercy and compassion, to love God and to love my neighbour as myself.
And secondly, you are made in God’s image. And that means that I have to treat you with respect and honour. I need to recognize your inherent dignity and worth as someone who has been created in God’s image. I need to realize just how amazing you are, and treat you with love and compassion. I need to learn to see the image of God in you.
“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This is not about Jesus giving a clever answer to a trick question. It’s not about paying taxes, or the separation of church and state, or how we are to manage divided loyalties. This is about knowing who I am and who you are so that we can live faithfully in response, giving to God the things that are God’s. We are God’s people, made in God’s image. That’s what governs our lives and our loyalties.
I am made in God’s image, so everything I am, my life and my being, belongs to God.
You are made in God’s image, so I need to honour and respect you, treat you with love and compassion and learn to see God’s image in you.
Together we will trust, worship and serve God.
That’s what it means to give to God the things that belong to God.
Homily: Yr A Proper 29, Oct 22 2017, St. Albans Church
Reading: Matthew 22.15-22