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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.


The Tribute Money, Jacek Malczewski 1908

When the offering plate around, try to relax.
It is not a payment, and it is not a tax. [1]

A little boy in church for the first time watched as the ushers passed around the offering plates. When they came near his pew, the boy could tell his father was anxious and then he said loudly, “Don’t pay for me, Daddy, I’m under five.”

When you look at the gospel today Jesus clearly says, “render unto Caesar (emperor), what belongs to him.”[2] The watchful Herodians and Pharisees were plotting to trap him by his own words. They baited him with the question, “Who does this belong?” Jesus did not claim the currency. He claimed something far greater. What do you think he told them to render?

If one travels to Italy, they will tell you this is a land, a culture full of churches. Every time you entered one, it was sensory overload. There was wall to wall marble, pillaged from the pagan sites by Christians once they were no longer persecuted by the Romans. In Rome alone, there were 32 basilicas and 124 churches, we are told. When entering each one, a priest, perhaps on sabbatical, wept because he was so moved. Why was he moved, you may ask? He asked Jesus to help him renew his spirit while away. Sitting there in one of the ancient churches in Rome, he looked around and marveled at how long it had been there; how much effort went into maintaining it. Thinking about all the cutting of marble statutes and oil paintings alone; all the hours dedicated. When listening to one of the historians, he learned about a matriarch or patriarch, who could have given support at a time of great need for planting that church or restoring it. It could have been a sovereign or the papacy. The Pope actually owns each of those holy spaces and has charge over them, he learned. He thought of his own church; its history. Like this ancient place of worship, he thought of all the people he never met, who lived years before; all the tears, blood and sacrifice that came out of these pews, from this floor to which we enjoy today. He thought about the leaders such as the Senior and Junior Warden, the Treasurer, and all the people that God employed for its operation.

He wondered how it could continue, and then it was time for mass. About twenty or so Catholics settled into pews, where one can imagine they always sat and kneeled for worship. Everything got quiet. The priest emerged and began the opening, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” but in Italian. Eventually the offering plate went around. Each person touched it and some would place in it, their local currency, a donation out of goodwill towards the church. When you entered the church, before any service, there was a donation box for tourists. It was that collection, the support of the government and the Vatican that gave financially so it could remain open, if truth be told. But the offering plate was passed, like it is in our church. Only about 2% of the entire budgeted revenue comes from this plate, so why does it circulate each Sunday?
What is the church? Is this just a relic, a UNESCO site for tourists? Where is the spiritual might of this place, it’s history and is this truly what God called us to build. Jesus did not come to abolish the Old Testament but to fulfill it. In the ancient days, when the Hebrew people crossed the Sinai Peninsula into current day Saudi Arabia, they affixed the importance of a tithe, not a tax, and it went to the family of one of the twelve tribes known as Levi. The book of Numbers gives account of about 23,000 males. The tithe was expected and required from the other eleven tribes for them as they were solely responsible for taking care of the Altar. They were the ordained priesthood and took currency in the form of oxen, goats, lambs, and doves. They butchered the meat, gave a roast, and sprinkled, purified the tabernacle, the altar in the Holy of holies, with the animal’s blood, per their custom. This is where they devoted their lives, and this was understood throughout the people of Israel. This was where we came to this realization of all the people belonging to the same body.

The word “church” was not used at that time and “temple” didn’t come until later, either. This brings us to the time of Jesus when he did not say, “go out there and build my church.” He did not tell them to go build a building. In fact, when the moment of the Transfiguration happened, Peter wanted to build a booth for him, and the apparitions of Moses and Elijah. He wanted to build shrines to mark the spot. Jesus said, “No. You carry who I am with you and let your heart be that tabernacle.” He never told them to build a church. He never told the Church to call a bishop, priest or deacon. This is now explicitly speaking. He never told his people to make a Bible. He never said to them you have to give ten percent of your income. There is a lot Jesus did not say and at that time in our human history, he realized we were maturing as a body, a representation on this earth as a people who would need to deliver the message into the world.

This is where the problem is. We build, we memorialize, we contribute, but we have to ask ourselves, “Why?” Are we doing this as a compulsory obligation. Is this what God says you have to do? God is looking at us in a new light, treating us as adults, mature members of His body and blood. This is where something scandalous will be said. “God does not care about your money.” “He does not care how much you give?” This makes Stewardship Committees, Vestries and Treasurers nervous. They think the priest may be sabotaging the continuation of financial giving with such a radical comment. What are we to render? Back to the priest, who now visits the ostentatious, the ornate, ancient cathedral of St. Peters, and sees in one building about twenty altars, renderings of masterpieces, artwork that surpasses the best museums. The question makes him wonder why so much was asked to be rendered by countless faithful Christians to build this place. The answer: the dedication, commitment and offering for that period for what we were now seeing, was intended to direct us to that question. What are we in our lives, called to render unto God? What are we to give? What does Christ call you to do?

There are a lot of people out there who are taxed. A tax is defined as some amount of money levied by a government to offset the everyday operation of maintaining, protecting, and building its territory. That’s the long definition. It is presented as something necessary but often it is perceived as extraordinary and a burden. It is too much. They cannot possibly keep this rate of increase and expectation. Children are taxed when they hear their parents arguing. Young people who graduate college are taxed, feeling the burden of paying back their student loans. Parents are taxed, challenged to keep a roof over their family and feed them. Seniors are taxed when they save and save, and after retirement wonder why it was not enough. They may have to go back to work. There are a lot of people who feel taxed.

Back to the offering plate, it is an interesting phenomenon. For a people dedicated to following Christ, they want a place that will be there to help people who feel taxed. We need to see what we do in church as a place where peace that passes all understanding exists. It needs to be a place where we can come to relax; to take sabbath. At this very moment, those called as leaders may interject, “Father, we do not feel very relaxed. We feel like we are doing everything and there is not much left.” The priest hears all of this and understands because this is something he has also fallen into and it adds to his fatigue. If however the priest loses his vision; what God has called him to do and when to do it, what good is he to lead his flock. This is why the emphasis must be placed giving God’s peace in the middle of a world that wants to press anxiety and taxation and burden. But we are told to live in an abundance, knowing God’s grace can meet every need that we have. Scarcity and fear have no place. We must do all things at all costs to know Christ. He said we are to pick up our cross and follow him and that is not an easy thing. We are to do it as he did it. We do it for others. The priest was not called to be the center of attention and always in the limelight as we are all the body of Christ. We are all the church. The side effects of our efforts, working together mutually and in love, become the outward and visible signs that make us less anxious. We need to be ready for that. A lot of people are taxed, and Christ continues to ask the question, “why are you doing what you are doing?” “What are you rendering?” As the Herodians and Pharisees intended to trap and accuse him then, they continue to do so now to us. Simply render the dollar to who it belongs to. The offering plate collection may seem small, but we pass it around so you can touch it.

The body of Christ is about our human touch, for us to render unto God what belongs to God. If you ask that priest, “Father how much should I give to the church?” do not be taxed by his response. It should be what Jesus tells him to do, “Render it all.” If you have that holy conversation with our Savior, everything else just works itself out, even if you’re only five years old. It is your heart he wants you to render. If you excise it out of your body, you will die. Can you give him 10%? No. How much will you give Him? If you are going to render anything to God, to Jesus the Son, render your heart, render it all.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Matthew 22:15-22

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