Matthew 22: 15- 22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
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 image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Lok Sabha Elections 2014 has done a lot of things to us. On Facebook and on Twitter all we seem to talk about is politics. We have jokes of ‘Ab Ki Baar, Modi Nahi hai Bachelaar’, we have jokes on the cough of Kejriwal and the Amul Baby image of Rahul Gandhi. We have staunch supporters of each group trying to prove a point to the other. We have new words in the dictionary like ‘Aaptards and Moditards’. I have witnessed close friends fighting over their political preferences and getting more personal than ever. Sometimes friends have asked political questions based on my preferences which will be more to trap me than to elicit an answer or my opinion. Even I have done this and have branded people who oppose my views as those who have no conscience or courage to face the truth. I guess we are yet not mature enough to handle the social media where we can level out the issues facing the country and fight with passion for the truth we believe without getting abusive or trapping the other so that we win by making the point.
Guess this phenomenon is not a recent one. In the text that we just read that Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus. Pharisees believed that Temple tax was the most important tax and paying tax to Caesar was a sin of the highest proportion. There were Pharisees who did not carry the Roman coin as it was believed to be a blasphemy. Herodians were in association with the Romans and supported the tax system of Caesar. As we know Rome had captured the land of Israel which the people of Israel detested very much. Now it is interesting that the Pharisees to trap Jesus, sent their disciples with the Herodians. And they ask the million dollar question. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (vs 17). So then this is a trap where any answer would put Jesus in trouble, and then that was the real idea than having his opinion. But Jesus went on to display some parable out here by asking for a coin to one of them. By the rule of the Pharisees we can guess they did not have any coin as it was a sin, so it must be the Herodians who carried the denarius. Holding the denarius in hand he asked them “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” (vs 20). These guys were smart,they answered “Caesar”. And then came the final bit that nailed it. “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (vs 21). Now that looks pretty ambiguous to say the least. It seems to have pacified both.
Now when Jesus asked whose image and inscription is there on the coin the obvious answer was ‘Caesar’. And therefore Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. “Give to God what is God’s”, surely begs for a logic. Who has the image of God? Genesis 1; 27 says “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So if we are created in the image of God, what does it mean to “Give God what is God’s”?
Back in school, we learned about pie graphs in maths. Talking about maths itself makes me remember my affinity to the figure ‘zero’ when it came to marks. And guess what zero is also a circle. A circle represents the whole. Slices of the circle, whether large or small, represent portions of the whole. These slices are often shown in vivid colors. A pie graph can indicate how a budget is divided. It can indicate the breakdown of a population according to age or race or sex. A pie graph can convey many kinds of information in a way that is simple to understand.
You and I may experience life as we live it now in terms of a pie graph. The single self we are is served up in several slices. One slice may be for work, another for school, another for family. There may be slices for church and recreation and community service. Still other slices represent meals and sleep. Together such slices as these make up the pie which is our life here based on our choices and priorities.
My pie chart would read like this, 20% sleep, 20% reading, 30% Facebook, 10% family, 10% food and 10 % well what is 10%? O ya. God it is.
We have divided ourselves in so many pies. My wife sure wishes that 30% would be family instead of Facebook.( I am sure she contests the figure of 30%. She would say it is all I do. Well you know that’s not true)
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” With this reply, Jesus raises the debate to a higher level. What is at stake is more than tax payments, more than even the rule of Rome. It is not Caesar who is in control, it is God who is in control. Jesus says that God is not just a slice of your pie. You are made in His image. The circle belongs to him. When you give him, you give yourself to him, rather than putting a mere 10% consolation prize of a pie for him. Jesus says God has the complete claim over you. He gives shape to your scattered pies. It is in the Circle of the presence of God that give meaning, purpose and shape to the ‘pies’ of our lives.
This is what Paul urges us when he says “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12: 1-2). We are to offer ourselves ‘wholly and completely’ to God and not just a pie of our time and talent. Rev Charles Hoffacker says something profound. “In life we all get burnt out handling our jobs, family and children that we complain we have no time for ourselves. That is because we depend heavily on our resources. ‘Give to God what is God’s’ means giving yourself to God where God is the source of electricity and we just transmit this electricity to the people and the tasks that we are involved in. We are not the source. God, the creator is the source. Giving our all to God is easier said than done?
Let me leave you with a very silly illustration. According to one story, a much loved king had a terrible ailment of the heart and was in need of a heart transplant. There was a great concern throughout his kingdom. Everyone gathered outside the royal castle. Outside the royal balcony there were a sea of people who heard the minister declare that the king needs a heart transplant. Hearing this the people started screaming and waving their hands. “Take my heart, King, take my heart!”
Well, the king was overwhelmed at the love of the people. But he just needed one heart and here every one was ready to give. So how would he pick that one person? An idea popped into his head. He asked everyone to please be quiet for a few minutes and he told them his plan. He would throw down a feather and whoever the feather landed on, the king would take their heart for the transplant. The beloved king then threw the feather out over the people and watched it drift back and forth. Everyone was still screaming and waving their hands, “Take my heart, King,” but with one difference: they were leaning their heads back and blowing the feather back into the air. “Take my heart, King (blow), Take my heart (blow).”
We too try to believe that we are giving ourselves fully to God by saying “Take my Heart Lord”. But all we really like to do is give a ‘pie’ of our time and energy to God by confining him to Sundays and prayer times saying even more loudly “Take my heart Lord (Blow), Take my heart Lord (Blow)”. Well hear Jesus say this once again “God does not need your pie, he is the circle that gives meaning to your life.”
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church