This is one of those readings that we rarely hear much about, it is a hard reading to preach on. We have all heard or read it so many times, we all know, that it says, “Therefore render to Caesar “ we forget the part about rendering to God that which is His. I think that this stops us from looking deeper into this reading, yet there is much here that we need to think about so today, we are going to try to hear this as it would have been heard by those people. We also are going to try to see how this is applicable to ourselves today.

As in past stories of this type we start with the Jewish religious leaders plotting to get rid of Jesus. They know they can not just arrest him and kill him, for one thing the crowds will riot and there will be much destruction and killing. Of course they also know they cannot kill Jesus, they have only the power to give him 39 lashes. Only the Romans can execute him. They hatch this plan to try to trap him by his words.

They figure that no matter how Jesus speaks after they ask their question, he will upset either the Romans or the people, either way, they will get rid of him. Of course they are not going to place themselves in a position to be embarrassed so they get others to do their dirty work for them. Now note that there are two main groups who are arguing over the tax situation, one of them was the Herodians. These were not a part of the church, they were people who supported Herod Antipas, they wanted Herod to be promoted so they could have better relations with Rome. They also thought it was just fine for them to pay taxes to Rome, it paid for the luxuries they enjoyed, paved roads, trade with the outside world, and of course peace. The second group was the Pharisees, they were the religious group and resisted paying taxes to Rome, they wanted to pay only the temple tax, based on the Shekel.

They asked Jesus if it was OK to pay taxes to Rome, if he said yes he would upset the Jews, if he said no he would upset the Herodians and the Romans. Either way, he would lose and they would win. They sent in their group to ask the question, knowing that one way or the other Jesus would be finished. I think it is kind of funny how they tried to flatter Jesus before springing their trap. “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

They thought they had Jesus trapped, but of course they found out differently. Before he gave them an answer, he asked them to show him the coin that was used to pay the tax. When they brought the denarius, he asked whose picture was on the coin, they said “Caesar”, and then Jesus gave his answer. The question that Jesus asked made sense, since in that time, whoever had a picture on a coin, he was the owner of that coin. Since the coin belonged to Caesar, Jesus was able to answer that they should give to Caesar what was his and to God what was God’s.

Nice simple answer, kind of put a kink in the plan of the Pharisees and Herodians’. Of course, just because it looks like a simple and straightforward reply, if we look at little closer, we might find that there is more here than meets the eye, or ear.

Let us understand that Jesus is saying that Government and Church are not necessarily incompatible, in many ways they can and should work together to improve the lives of those that they serve. Government can make it easier for food pantries to handle and distribute food to those who are in need.

Then there is the truth that the government, is in place to administer the laws of the nation, to maintain the peace and tranquility, and to protect the nation from invasion. This of course requires that the government have a way to raising funds to pay for these things to happen. The Jews who really resented the Romans and their taxes, also realized the benefits of the Roman occupation. Good roads, the Pax Romana, (Peace of Rome), Open trade routes and other benefits of the Roman occupation. Of course for the purists, the orthodox Jewish believers these things were not good, they wanted the Romans gone, as well as Herod and the Herodian family. They wanted to return to their own rule of their own land.

OK, that was then this is now, what can we take from this story to apply to our lives today? For one thing, the answer that Jesus gave to his enemies on that day still applies today. Government is still necessary, because without some form of government there would be anarchy. It is also true that the church and government can and should work together for the betterment of society.

It is also true that we need to fund the governmental operations somehow, so that they can provide for the protection of the nation, and to cause the laws of the land to be enforced. So we do need to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

We cannot forget though the rest of that answer today either, we are to render unto God that which is God’s. Remember that the imprint on the coin used to pay the tax was the face of Caesar. Well the imprint of God is on all of creation, therefore we are to render unto God ourselves and all we are. The great commandment is still, Love the Lord your God with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself.

When we give ourselves to God it is to be 100%. Not 10% or even 90% and no not just on Sunday. We are to give ourselves to Him all day everyday. Of course what we pay to the government in taxes and what we give to God do have a decided difference. If we forget to pay our taxes, or we don’t have the money to pay our taxes, well then we could find our goods taken, or even our freedom taken. If we forget to give ourselves totally to God, he doesn’t send the law to take us to jail or sell our property. God is willing to forgive us our debt to him, and give us a new start. Let us also remember that what we give to God can never repay what God has done for us.

Now comes the hard part, what does God want from us? Jesus has told that the greatest thing is to love our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Secondly to love one another. We hear that love one another, and realize that it is one way for us to live as christian people. Yet we must never forget the underpinning for this life. You see everything, even this loving one another, is based in first loving God, and knowing the love of God in our own lives. We are sharing what we have received from our God, that is truly the underpinning of our life together. God loved even those who hated Him, who killed Him by crucifixion on the hill outside Jerusalem, he even forgave that horror.

Having the love of God as the center of our being, makes the things of this world just a little less than important. We come to realize that these things are fleeting, that we can’t take them with us into eternity, and that God’s love unlike the things of earth, is forever. We can and should support a government that provides the framework for living in this world. We can and should also oppose that government when it works against God’s law.

Just as long as we keep God first in all that we do, then all will be right in eternity. So please do remember the answer that Jesus gave, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give to God that which is God’s.” Jesus was quite clear in what he said, and that is what we need to remember, that God comes first, because we are made in His image, and we belong to God.

I wonder sometimes why they didn’t just ask Jesus “Whose side are you on, Israel or Rome?” I know what his answer would have been, it would not have been Rome or Israel, he would have said “God’s side.” I guess we could be asked that same question, “Whose side are you on, the USA or Mexico?” My answer will always be, God’s side. Who do you love? My answer would be God, my wife and family, my brethren in the service of God.

In other words the answer for me is always God first, because He loved me enough to die for my sins, that I might live in eternity with Him. So what is your answer? Who do you love? This world, this nation in which we find a growing discontent, a growing hatred for God/ A place where people put themselves, their money and power before caring for others, a place where more and more we see gratification of self first. Or will it be God’s world, a place where love grows, where you are valued just as much as your neighbor, where we can live in peace and forgive our enemy, just as we are forgiven for our mistakes, our sins. What would your answer be?

Give unto God that which is God’s. Amen.