That Which Is You
The Rev. Jon Roberts
St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church
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.
Render unto Caesar by Antoni Caba, 1863
Ages ago God spoke the words, “Thou shall have no other Gods before me” and in the Gospel today his Son tells us, “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that are God’s.”
Somehow we just don’t get the point on this subject and we must need a lot of reminding. A Christian by the name of Tertullian said, “The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgement – is idolatry.” In the year 200 AD, he too, was faced with the problem where many people were making images of Gods and worshipping them instead of the one true God.
Matthew writes with a unique perspective. He visualizes God as the Sovereign King, ruler of the Universe. He is not to be equaled nor reckoned by the forces of evil. It is also of note that Matthew was a tax collector. His training was in accountability and had to keep track of everything adding up. Interestingly, this story of Jesus centers on paying a tax. There is an important relationship between idolatry and the tax referred to in Matthew. When I say, “April the 15th “, what comes to your mind? It’s the deadline for all of us to pay our taxes. Relax…You still have six more months before you have to file. During Jesus’ lifetime there were several taxes that had to be paid by all men and women if they were between the ages of 12-65. They were collected for Government, State, and Local purposes. The coin that was given to Jesus was a token of the currency used to pay such taxes, and what is important is that it had an image on it. It was the face of Augustus Caesar.
A walk in history reveals Augustus as the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. The name “Augustus” means, “Exalted” and in the hearts of the citizens of Rome, he was God. Augustus had been dead for about fifteen years by the time Jesus said those famous words, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that are God’s,” but his image was still being produced on the currency. Throughout the empire, everyone knew the significance behind the coin bearing his image. In Galilee and Judea, they were expected to view Caesar as a God and this created a lot of animosity between the locals and their foreign rulers. Romans made sure that all subjects in the empire would be loyal, continuing to idolize their emperors. They insured this by enforcing a government tax known as the Poll tax. It was from this tax that supported the building of Coliseums where the Emperor Cult was worshipped by wicked and indecent practices. It is not surprising to see other political groups in the empire trying to mimic idol worship as well.
Some were not so successful in spreading their ideas. The Herod Party is such a group. Sometime in the 4th Century, John Chrysostom delivered a homily on Matt. 22 and did not hide how he viewed the Herodians. In his commentary he treats them with great distrust and describes them to be… “A Crafty people, driven by self-will, and a murderous disposition. They breathed anger and travailed to plot against Jesus, with a faked respect for him.” Chrysostom goes on saying, “After Jesus confounds them, and silences them, he manifests to all their intent with ‘Render to C’sar what belongs to C’sar, and to God what belongs to God’. He repulsed their wickedness and being that he was God, he was deceived by none of these things. This was a sign that he knew their secret thoughts.”
God knew their secret thoughts. He saw through their hidden agenda to imitate the Romans and make the rulers of the local Herod dynasty into idols. They wanted to build their own coliseums. They wanted their own lavish parties to exercise and promote wicked behaviors. They wanted to do all of this, of course at the expense of the taxpayer. The secret for taxes to succeed is that you take a little money from a lot of people. Jesus had a lot of people following him. They followed him in regions where the Herods were trying to win support of their tax, but Jesus got in their way. If they could catch him in a quote that put him in a compromising position, then this would aid their cause. There is evidence that they were not alone in their plot.
The Pharisees joined with the Herod party, and lobbied to take away Jesus’ power and influence with the thousands of people he had taught, healed, and fed. As it says in v.15, “The Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians.” There is little doubt that both the Pharisees and the Herodians were both out to get Jesus to make a choice. The options they give him are from a deceptive plot where it is only a lose-lose situation for Jesus. They corner him where he will be held in contempt of either the government or the people.
It is amazing that Jesus comes up with a third option to turn it into a winning outcome leaving his hearers to marvel over his words. He does this by using the important and key verb, “to Render” which may also translate as, “to pay” or “to give.” Everybody has something to give. If Jesus is saying give Caesar his tax, but give to God what belongs to him, then what is left to give Him? You is more to you than you may think. He is not referring to your checking account. He is not referring to your house or your cars. These are material things that lie on the surface of your being. Jesus is referring to the complex creation for which you are. Your entire being is a concert of thoughts and feelings, impulses and senses. You change so much along your lifetime and are a dynamic creature. There is so much that he takes delight in seeing within you and the results and influences you make on the outside, and with others.
He wants a front row seat, the best view of your soul. He wants an active part in your life and helping you fit in with the universe he has created. You are specially designed and work according to his pleasure and he loves you. Because he loves you so much, he gave that which meant the most to him. He rendered his son Jesus to feel your pain and give you hope. He rendered his Holy Spirit upon you to journey day by day. This is the type of giving he expects and deserves from you. He wants the very best you have to offer. Therefore, render to Jesus what belongs to Jesus, that which is you.
 Matthew 22:15-22
 David Bercott. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1998. p.350.
 St. John Chrysostom HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW : C.70.