Hello, and welcome to a new week of the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of Matthew with you this week.
This week we will be looking at chapters 22 and 23 of the Gospel according to Matthew. This passage is one long conversation between Jesus and a crowd of people who have come to hear him speak.
Today, we will look at Matthew 23, verses 15-22. The first group we meet in this passage is the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of Jewish religious scholars who were very unsure about Jesus and his teaching. So, they decided to ask him a question they thought would cause him to trip up.
The Pharisees’ question is about the relationship between faith and politics. This has always been, and will always be, a question for the Christian community—really, all people of faith who live in a society where they are not the only people and don’t make all the rules. The question was particularly important to the Jewish community in Jerusalem who Jesus is teaching at this point in Matthew’s story. Living under the rule of the Roman Empire, they faced daily dilemmas about how to be faithful followers of God and follow the rules of their society.
The Pharisees ask a simple question: should a follower of God pay tax to the Roman government or not? It seems the Pharisees assume the answer must either be no – in which case you’re a law breaker – or yes, in which case you’re not being faithful to God. Jesus sees the whole thing differently. Asking to see a coin, which has Caesar’s face one it, he famously says that one should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. In other words, the human government might make the money and rightfully ask for a portion back in tax, but God is the creator of all and demands our ultimate allegiance.
If this sounds like a debate we might have in the 21st century, perhaps that should be no surprise. The tension between following God and being a good citizen have always existed—perhaps no more so than when Jesus himself lived. Jesus and his earliest followers changed the world despite having almost no political or institutional power.
Actually, the most important point Jesus is making might be that even when Christians do have some authority, we are not really in control. God is in control; whatever authority and influence we have comes from God, and we are to use it for God’s kingdom. In about 200 AD, one Christian put it this way:
‘They don’t inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life… And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of foreigners. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country.’
Today, we should ask ourselves this question. Are we using whatever power and authority we have in this world to serve God and to help other people? If not, perhaps we’re asking ourselves the wrong question too.
Jesus, today we want to be people who use the things you have given us to help other people. Grant us the wisdom to know how we can do so. Be present when we do help, Lord, so that people will see your love in our actions. Amen.
READING: 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 poll-tax 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.