ISAIAH 45:1,4-6 | 1 THESSALONIANS 1:5B | MATTHEW 22:15-21
“Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” is certainly on the top ten list of biblical quotes. Jesus said this to circumvent a difficult situation. Two groups, hostile to each other, united in an attempt to take him down. The Herodians were a political party loyal to Herod who was set up by Rome and worked hand in hand with it. The Pharisees were a conservative, ultra-orthodox Jewish group that wanted Israel to be a theocracy. Both groups felt threatened by Jesus. As a popular Jewish preacher, he was seen as a threat to the stability of the Roman occupation. As a rabbi, his “liberal” approach was seen as a threat to Jewish orthodoxy. They thought they had come up with the perfect trap to stop this Jesus once and for all by asking, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
If Jesus answered “yes,” the Pharisees would condemn him as a traitor to the Jewish people.
If he answered “no,” the Herodians would have him arrested for inciting revolt. Jesus’ answer was simple – you know your obligations to the state and to God; now act on it!
Jesus’ answer is of utmost importance for us to hear today. We’re in the midst of a tremendous existential challenge. The divisions that are tearing our country apart have become so toxic that the future of our democracy is in jeopardy. We cannot allow ourselves to be sidetracked by any one particular political issue.
Jesus looked at the big picture, collaboration and harmony. And so must we. It’s the only remedy for the healing of our republic. Another teaching of Jesus is closely related to this one and well worth taking note of at this moment. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or house divided against itself will stand.” We need to discard our boxing gloves. We need to find ways to clasp hands again so that we can work for the common good.
The work that lies before us is daunting. Hard-headed focusing on one issue or another can only intensify the divide. We must keep our focus on the big picture. We must never forget the ideal our republic is built on. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Can there be any ideal more profound than ours?
Father, I pray for myself
and my brothers and sisters
throughout our nation.
We’re drowning in hate and anger.
Deliver us from the grip of the evil one.
Rend our hearts
that they might beat in rhythm with your own.
Heal us that we might love
as you love and forgive as you forgive.