“Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. This verse has never failed to stir up controversy over its meaning, with some pastors and traditions focusing on the legalistic meaning that could be interpreted regarding taxes and payments to the emperor.
Yet here, on this third Sunday of Lent, as our world is coping with how to handle a pandemic illness, those perceived issues of legality pale in comparison to what we now must face.
As our government and the governments of nations around the world work to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus, the news media provides a constant update on where things stand. Schools and museums are closed, churches and houses of worship are finding other ways to connect, stores are shutting their doors or limiting their hours. It feels as though every other email we receive provides new information on how to help control the spread and limit interactions with others. “Social distancing” is now a regular part of our vocabulary, and plans are shifting as we seek to find a balance between our physical isolation and interpersonal connection. For the time being, “render unto Caesar” means listening to the instructions and following the mandates and abiding by the rules of the state.
Talking with friends and family, we are all aware of the fear and anxiety that hang heavy over those conversations. The unknown stretches out before us, and the path ahead seems darker now, than once it did. We must give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s—our commitment to distance and disinfecting, cooperation and collaboration.
But there is a greater, deeper call upon our hearts….that even as we “give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, we must not forget that Jesus calls us to give to God that which is God’s. As that dark path stretches out, we must look—not to the darkness, but to the Light. The Light of Christ that is attending us all along the way. Our passage this morning is about loyalty—about where we find our truth and where we place our trust. In a time of confusion and fear, we have the option to be caught in the anxious whirlpool of calamity….or to turn again to the One who calmed the seas, who made a feast of loaves and fishes, who healed the un-heal-able and stood with the un-love-able. The One who pledged to be with us always, to the end of the age; the One who spoke to us in parable and promise. Your heart and soul and mind are your currency—your golden coin. To whom are you giving them? And what are you buying with them? Fear or faith?
On our Lenten journey together, we have already been reminded that it is from dust we came and to dust we shall we return. As we were marked with literal or figurative ashes those few weeks ago, we committed ourselves to a journey of self-reflection to help us to grow closer to God. We must keep those images first in our minds, when the anxious thoughts intrude, and remember what it is we are called to be. To remember ourselves as the dust of the earth; to remember ourselves as connected to one another and to all the saints on heaven and earth through the Bread and Cup; to remember the redemption and salvation of the Cross. To remember that this is our own journey through the Wilderness….Dust. Bread. Cross. Coin.
This week in our journey, as we focus on the coin and we think about this passage, we are reminded of the other ways in which coins come into focus in the scriptures…from the widow and her two coins to Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers to the coins to rebuild the Temple. Over and over again, the theme of generosity shines forth, like the gleaming light of the widow’s polished copper. Generosity, mercy, trust, love, faithfulness….Hope. In times of crisis, the people of God have responded in kind. We worship a God who is bigger than any fear; any doubt; any anxiety than the age in which we live could elicit.
As you look out upon the path before you, is there anything that you are putting before God? Are you letting that which you must “render unto Caesar” impede your ability to give unto God what is God’s? Are you choosing fear over faith? Anxiety over action? Worry over wonder? Trying times call us to account, and there are things we must certainly do and ways in which we must live in these weeks ahead that are unlike anything we anticipated. But even as we do so, we must not forget Whose voice is speaking through the chaos and confusion. Give to God, what is God’s—-namely, all that we learn in the first commandment, our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We have the power for this journey in the palm of our hand. In this Lenten season, we must not forget this. That our heart and soul and mind are our golden coins. To whom are you giving them? And what are you buying with them? Fear or faith? Dwelling in the unknown can leave us unsure and unsettled, but in this time of uncertainty, I pray that it unites us all in faith and hope. Amen.