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Ascribe To The Lord

Matthew 22:15-22

The Rev. Jon Roberts

22 October


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

15 Then the Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Hero′di-ans, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the money for the tax.” And they brought him a coin. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.

Ascribe To The Lord

Render unto Caesar by Maerten de Vos, 1602

Ascribe to the Lord the honor due His name. Bring offerings and come into His courts.[1]

A couple of weeks after hearing a sermon on Matthew, chapter 22, the part where Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give unto God what belongs to Him” , a man wrote the following letter to the IRS: "I have been unable to sleep, knowing that I have cheated on my income tax. I understated my taxable income, and have enclosed a check for $150.” Further along, he wrote, “If I still can't sleep, I will send the rest." The next year, the same man was asked by the IRS auditor, "How have you managed to buy such a luxurious villa while your income is so low?" "Well," the taxpayer answered, "while fishing last summer I have caught a large golden fish. When I took it off the hook, the fish opened his mouth and said, 'I am a magical fish. Throw me back to the sea and I'll give you the most luxurious villa you have ever seen'. I threw the fish back to the sea, and got the villa." "How can you prove such an unbelievable story" asked the Auditor? "Well,” said the man, “you can see the villa, can't you?"
Ascribe to the Lord the honor due His name.

When looking further into the meaning of today’s Holy Scripture, we see there is an emphasis on taxes and giving what is due to the authorities of government. We see what is being ascribed as the characteristic of a government to collect revenue by the Herodians.[2] It is a series, in which would be most appropriate to give around the tax season, in April, especially since the following verses in the Gospel according to St. Matthew deals with “Death.” How morbid to think that death & taxes go so close together. But every year, millions and millions of people, all over the world, in different percentages are required to ascribe to their governments what belongs to the order of their civilization. It is easy to see how people view taxes so negatively, even to think it simulates death, when having to pay into something by force. Especially when we do not endorse the things our government is doing.

Much like in Jesus’ day, people struggled paying a tax, especially to a foreign dictate. Caesar and his Pax Romana, expected a lot of revenue from those nations it conquered and occupied. Keeping the roads open for merchants and travel; insuring military protection, keeping peace, was expensive. Caesar would not tolerate any other ruler and to make this point clear, coinage has his image printed. This inscription was a mark that you were to ascribe unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar. There was no other ruler, or principality that trumped this. If so, it was seen as a direct threat to national stability. When people would not bring offerings and come into his courts, his governors ruled unmercifully. Punishment, even unto death would result.

This is nothing new to the people of God. Remember the intolerant government of King Cyrus? He was anointed as one of God’s rulers, but he was a tyrant.[3] His face was on the coins of his time and taxes were demanded to be paid. After so many years, the inscriptions and their meanings, they come and go. At first, they are so clear and so raised there was no denying what was demanded in their meaning. Could it be that God permits intolerable rulers to call us out, to ascribe the honor due our Lord? Governments rise and fall, but God has minted something that will never diminish. He has printed His name, His purpose and His love on the hearts on every single person. The question really becomes will you render unto God what belongs to God?

What happens today when you don’t pay your tax? Penalties for sure, and depending on how severe the negligence, you could be thrown into jail. If there were extra, keeping us up at night, we wouldn’t mind giving to support the things necessary: hospitals, schools, police, roads and bridges, and so forth. But what happens when the culture around these things change? What if the hospital no longer healed, but only prescribed? What if the school no longer educates, but rather indoctrinates? What if the police no longer protect, but rather enforce? What if the road and the bridge no longer is trusted? This is when taxes turn into something that is no longer used for the commonwealth. Sometimes governments take on the attributes of being all-knowing, all-providing.

Maybe this is a good reason why we like to come to Church. We are not forced to give a tax. Instead we pledge to give our lives to God. We come into His courts, bringing our offerings because His image should be inscribed on our hearts. Ascribe to the Lord the honor due His name.

[1] Psalm 96:8
[2] Matthew 22:15-22
[3] Isaiah 45:1-7

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