Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost October 21-22, 2023
“Both” Matthew 22:15-22
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Better watch what you say!! Sometimes those words will come right back to you. And you have to know how to respond. Jesus found that out in our lesson from Matthew’s gospel.
Today the key phrase in the sermon are those well-known words, “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) But what prompted those words?
In the last few Sunday’s we have read a number of the parables of Jesus. In Matthew 21 it was the Parable of the Tenants and in Matthew 22 it was the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. They were parables that were directed against some of the religious leaders who had it in for Jesus and who would not come to a repentance of heart and a faith in who Jesus was. In the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) Jesus speaks about a landowner who owned a vineyard and at harvest time he came to harvest his fruit. But the tenants wouldn’t give the owner a thing. In fact, some who came to collect the fruit were mistreated, others they killed, and when the son of the landowner arrived, they said, “This is the heir. Come let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” And they did it. They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
What would the owner of that vineyard do? He came after those thieves and robbers and gave the vineyard to others. At the end of the parable we read this, “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.” (Matthew 21:45) Then they looked for a way to arrest Jesus. The words of Jesus got Him into trouble.
In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) a king was hosting a wedding feast for his son. He worked hard at preparing the best meal and providing the most beautiful setting and sent out invitations. But those who were invited didn’t come. They snubbed the king and his son. He sent another invitation and now not only did they ignore the kindness of the king they mistreated the servants who brought the invite. Now the king changed the guest list. “The king said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the wedding banquet anyone you find.” (Matthew 22:8-9) And Jesus concludes this reversal of who could come to the banquet with these words, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
Some people can remember the exact words you said, and how you said them, for a long time. Two groups of religious leaders, who were enemies of each other, wanted to catch Jesus in the very words that He used. Now His words weren’t going to sting them. No – He was going to get stung by His own words. “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples along with the Herodians.” After trying to butter Him up with kind words, they laid their trap, “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17)
That was a trick question. If Jesus said “No”, or if Jesus said “Yes” He was going to get into trouble. If Jesus had said “No” Jesus would have been reported to the Roman authorities, the folks who held the final say on everything and Jesus would have been executed for treason. By the way, one of the false charges brought against Jesus was just that. In Luke we read, “We found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Luke 23:2) And if Jesus said “Yes, we should pay the taxes, the Pharisees would have denounced Jesus for being disloyal to His nation.
Jesus chooses His words well. We read, “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then He said to them, ‘Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” (Matthew 22:18-21)
Words can challenge you. They were meant to challenge Jesus and bring Him down, but His words challenged them. “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s.” What is that word, then, for us? This is a word about the responsibilities we have in living in a society with others. This is more, much more, than about paying taxes. By the way, I heard that the new tax form for 2024 will be sent soon. It is quite simple. It just has two lines to it. The first line says, “How much did you make last year?” The second line says, “Send it in.”
As Christians we are to make a difference in the town or city or county or state in which we live. We are to obey laws, pay our taxes, respect those who are in positions over us. Paul would say of this, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:7) Jesus would use challenging words when He would say, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16) Our society needs good citizens. We need honorable people serving in so many ways – in government, in our schools, in our courts. And Christians need to be the brightest lights wherever they are. Is that you? Do you have a sense of the great calling that God places upon you in the responsibilities set before you? Do you see the challenge that Jesus has spoken to you when He says, “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s”?
But His words are much more than a challenge. They are words of life. “And give to God what is God’s.” What is that? Is this another stewardship sermon? No. I don’t think Jesus is asking for folks to do things for God – giving money, getting involved is some godly effort, but it is a call from Jesus to repentance and faith. This group that He was addressing in the previous chapters had resisted Jesus. They wouldn’t come to the wedding banquet that the king threw for his son, they wouldn’t receive the son when he came to collect the rent, but rather threw him outside of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus told them plainly that they were resisting the ways of God when they rejected Him.
“Give to God the things that are God’s”. We belong to God. Our soul belongs to God. We are called to repent. Change. Turn. Start over. In the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour”, the plea for God’s place in our life is made:
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee; every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior – I come to Thee.
The things of God are faith. He was inviting those who had the worst planned for Him to come to believe and trust in Him. He does the same for us and for all. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) For you and I to trust in Jesus for our eternal salvation is the will of God for us. For you and I to know that we are secure in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins is the will of God for us. For you and I to sleep securely knowing the love of God embraces our life every day is to give to God what is God’s. St. John would tell us about the things of God when He writes, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40)
Jesus had words that stuck on that day. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” Not one, or the other. Both. That is the way of God for us. Amen!!