Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22
Key verse: (21b) 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.”
Reflection: Two things you can count on – death and taxes. Religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus so they asked him about paying taxes. The Roman Empire occupied Israel and required all people to pay taxes with Roman coins. If Jesus suggested the Jews shouldn’t pay taxes, then he would be a revolutionary and could be arrested for treason. For faithful religious people, paying taxes was a problem. It probably felt like an act of betrayal, acknowledging Roman control over the land that God had given to them. The coins themselves were “unclean” because they were made by Gentiles, used by Gentiles, and had the image of a Gentile on them. If Jesus said “yes pay your taxes,” then he would honor the Roman laws but anger the faithful religious people. If Jesus said “no don’t pay your taxes” then he would please the religious leadership but anger the Romans. A trap!
Jesus was wise. First he asked them for a coin as an example. When one of them pulled a coin out of a purse or pocket, I wonder if anyone gasped. That religious leader was carrying an unclean Gentile coin around. Scandalous! Then Jesus asked them about the image of the coin. It was an image of the emperor. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Well that settles it. But wait a minute, doesn’t everything belong to God? Oh goodness, now what do we do?
Jesus wasn’t offering a universally applicable solution to whether we should pay taxes. He was refusing to fall into a trap. He was challenging self-righteous leaders by revealing their own hypocrisy and inconsistency. He was forcing everyone to think and discern without a quick and easy answer.
As we celebrate this holiday weekend, take time to think and discern. What does it mean to be a faithful citizen? Does it sometimes mean civil disobedience? How does a person of faith recognize when patriotism becomes nationalism? In our celebration of freedom, let us use our freedom to work for good in the world.
Prayer: This is my song, O God of all the nations, A song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover, And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, A song of peace for their land and for mine. Amen.
(“This Is My Song”, verses one and two by Lloyd Stone, hymn #340 in Glory to God)
Author: Millie Snyder
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].