Site Overlay

What’s In Your Wallet?

Matthew 22:15-22

October 19, 2014

Sermon preached by Rev. Donald Ng at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco.

We have all been irritated by the Capital One credit card “What’s in your wallet?” commercials with a Samuel L. Jackson look-a-like, Alec Baldwin and Vikings. The question for us today is: “What is in your wallets, coin purses, and handbags?” Besides your driver’s license, probably the most important things in our wallets are the folding money, debit cards, and credit cards. Jesus asked the Pharisees what was in their wallets.

Show Me the Coin

Our gospel passage for today is a familiar one. Jesus is asked a question about whether one should pay taxes to the emperor or not. This was not just an academic question. At this point in Jesus’ life, the Pharisees had decided that Jesus was a threat to their religion. They were actively seeking a way to trap him, to trip him up, to bring an end to his teaching and ministry. So when they asked this question, they were, as verse 15 says, “plotting to entrap him.” They sent some of their disciples, people who were loyal to the Pharisees, along with some Herodians, to Jesus. The “Herodians,” as the name suggests, were allied with the royal family and the occupying government; they most likely supported paying the taxes.

But the Pharisees on the other hand would have resented paying taxes though they did not go so far as to publicly resist paying taxes, as like the radical resistance groups. So this was a strange and unlikely alliance that came together to entrap Jesus.

Israel was not an independent country. The Jewish land was occupied by Roman authorities, authorities who made them follow their rules, including paying taxes to the Roman government. Paying taxes to Rome was a sore spot for the Jewish people. Why should they pay taxes to the government that is already occupying their land—especially since it was a pagan government? There were some who advocated refusing to pay. Others disagreed, like the Herodians, who were friendly to Rome.

So when the Pharisees asked this question, they asked it in an atmosphere charged with political and religious tension, in the presence of two opposing groups. If Jesus said, “Yes, you should pay taxes,” the people in the crowd, who hated Rome, would have been angry with Jesus.

But if Jesus said, “No,” then the Herodians would pounce on this as rebellion, and there would be grounds to arrest him for stirring up trouble against the government. Either way, the Pharisees thought, Jesus was caught. Either the people would rise up against him, or he would be arrested. Either way, it would be the end of his ministry.

The Pharisees set the stage for this conversation with flattery. “Teacher,” they called him, using the term of respect, “we know that you are sincere, you teach the way of God, you show deference to no one.” They thought they could soften him up with this flattery and catch him off guard.

But when they asked their question, verse 18 says, Jesus was “aware of their malice.” Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” he asked. Jesus knew their hearts, knew what they were thinking, knew they were trying to trap him. In his typical way of answering a question with a question, he said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” What is in your wallet?

When someone, probably a Pharisee, pulled out a denarius, he asked, “Whose image is this, and whose title?” He was turning the tables on them, putting the question back on those who asked it. The answer was obvious: “Caesar’s” The coin itself bore a likeness of the emperor along with the inscription, “Tiberias Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”

Then he said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”

Most translations like the one I read don’t capture the full meaning of that sentence. The meaning of the word, “give” was just not “give,” but to “give back” to Caesar and to “give back” or “return” to God what is God’s. Notice the difference. They were to return to Caesar what already belonged to Caesar and to return to God what already belonged to God.

It’s easy to see what belonged to Caesar. The money had Caesar’s image printed upon it. But what belonged to God?

Two Kingdoms

Since the Protestant Reformation and people like Martin Luther, some 500 years ago, we recognize that there are two kingdoms. There is the spiritual kingdom where God rules with the gospel, feeding his church with forgiveness and changing the heart of the world by his Spirit. But then there is the secular kingdom that includes every human institution and structure—such as government, industry and even the family—and through which secular matters are dealt with.

Read Related Sermon  Get Out of Here, Jesus!

The point for the reformers was that both realms, both kingdoms, belonged to God. Both were tools of his using to bring about his purposes. In the secular realm, he provided the structures for survival, and in the other, the spiritual realm, he provided the means of grace and for membership in his spiritual family. But the point is that both are God’s.

Because Jesus is ruling the secular world too, do not opt out of paying taxes on the grounds that you tithe. Give your tithe and find a legitimate way to deal with your taxes. Through one, God is glorified in an act of spiritual worship. In the other, God is glorified in an act of secular obedience. God is ruler of, and we are citizens of, both realms.

Jesus isn’t here to take sides on our agenda or to be a useful pawn as we craft our own way of living in this world—picking and choosing the parts of secular life we like and the spiritual parts of life we’re keen to embrace. He is not here to enable an a la carte approach to living where we are only faithful in the things we desire to be and rebel against those that we don’t like.

But rather Jesus came to craft a people—through his life, death and resurrection—who believe that he is Lord over all things and who, as a result, pursue obedience and beauty in every aspect of life.

We also know that at some times, our commitment in God drives us to challenge the current secular kingdom but even after we have done that, we end up building another one where we’ll be called to ask the same old questions: “What is required of me in this relationship? What does faithfulness look like as a citizen? What does love look like in this particular responsibility that I have?

We are to be a people who ask those questions even though we know the answers may be uncomfortable. Why do we do this? Because we know this world—all parts of it—do not belong to us or to Caesar. They belong to God, and so we seek not to co-opt him as we craft our own world but honor him within both realms of his.

One example of this is the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage that is occurring state after state after the Supreme Court decided not to hear cases that would have ban these unions in certain states. The point here is that state-approved same-sex marriages are recognized by states which means that all of the benefits that our governments provide for married couples would be available for these people. This is a matter of civil rights. This is in the secular kingdom of the world in which we live. It doesn’t really matter what the spiritual realm might say about this except that state guarantees and bestows the same benefits on people who are in same-sex marriages. And contrary to what some have said, they don’t dilute the significance and meaning Christian weddings.

Jesus tells us to give back to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what’s is God’s. But in the end, all the world, everything both the secular realm and the spiritual realm belong to God.

Image of God

This is our Canvass time when we think about giving to the church. Contrary to what we often think, stewardship does not apply just to money, but to our entire lives. It’s not just what’s in your wallet. It involves recognizing what God has given us, and what we should give God in return. After all, the meaning of the word, “steward” is someone who cares for what belongs to another. When we practice stewardship, we recognize that all that we have and all that we are belongs to God.

It’s easy to see what belonged to Caesar. The money had Caesar’s image printed upon it. But what belongs to God?

The answer to that is found when we ask the question, where do we find the image of God? In all of creation, there’s only one thing created in God’s image. People. You and me. Ancient religions made images to depict their gods, images of clay, or wood, or gold. Only in the faith of Judeo-Christian tradition is there a no man-made image of God. The image of God is seen in people. We are the image of God.

Read Related Sermon  The Resurrection Question

So if we are to follow Jesus’ command to give to God what bears God’s image, what are we to give? Ourselves! Our very lives!

Now you may ask, “My life? What good is my life to God? I have so little to give.” Sometimes we underestimate the value and the power of what we can give to God.

There’s a story of local firefighters doing a boot drive in a neighborhood. Standing out in the lanes of traffic with their fire boots collecting money. A woman stopped at the intersection and dug into her purse for money to give to the firefighter. And when he came over to her car window, she said, “Sorry, I don’t have any folding money. All I have in my pocketbook is change.” He said, “Ma’am, don’t apologize! Last year, we collected over $6000 in change alone.”

The woman felt bad because she had so little to give…but if each person gives what he or she has, what a difference it can make!

This week, you received the 2015 Canvass materials mailed out to you with a chart on how many pledges we received for this year. I believe we can do better. I would like to see us increase the number of people who pledge or make a contribution. It has never been the amount we give but it has always been to give back whatever that might be. What amazing things would happen if every single person would give at least one dollar! The giving of one dollar is symbolic of giving ourselves as the image of God back to God.

Every gift that God has created in us reflects something of the one in whose image we are made! When we give our time, our energy, our service, our one dollar, God can do amazing things with what we give.

What’s in your wallet?

We are like the little boy who was given two quarters—one for Sunday School and one for an ice cream cone. Walking along the street, one of the coins slipped out of his hand and fell through the grillwork into the drain below. The little boy raised his face toward heaven and said with genuine sorrow, “Well, God, there goes your quarter.” When we think about ourselves only in materialistic ways, we would feel bad dropping the quarter down the street drain. What God wants is not the quarter but the boy and his ice cream cone!

There are many ways that you can give back yourself as God’s image in you. You can take time to create an Operation Christmas Child shoebox and fill it with relatively simple things so that a child in need might be happy at Christmas.

You can sign up to cook for Friday Night School and through your home-cooked food and the hospitality that you convey in your smiles and service to those who are still settling into their new country, these students would see the image of God in us.

You can do something nice for someone this week. Take the time to call someone who needs to hear a caring voice and perhaps a prayer. That person will see the image of God in you.

You can open up your wallet, coin purse, hand bag and truly see what is in your wallet? All of those folding money, coins and plastic cards have images of Caesar on them and you can give them back to Caesar except for one dollar. This one dollar represents the point that you can give a lot more when we believe that everything belongs to God—both the secular realm and the spiritual realm.

Because in the end, Jesus wants more than your wallet, coin purse or handbag, Jesus wants you who are made in the image of God.

Let us pray.

You have made us in your own image, O God, and called us to be a covenant people—a people set apart. We are set apart not for privilege but for service; not for special rights but for responsibility. Our loyalty is to you and your kingdom. Our values and priorities, our pursuits and passions are to reflect your heart—a heart of love for the poor, a heart of justice for the innocent, a heart of compassion for the broken. Transform us, merciful Savior, in those places where we are still attracted to the secular realm’s agenda of power, money, beauty and influence. Save us from serving unworthy gods and lead us to worship only you. Thank you for the call to be yours and for the grace to live out that call through this church and its ministries. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.