For the last few Sundays, our Gospel readings have been about Jesus in Jerusalem where not everyone likes what he says and does. Some of the Pharisees do not like Jesus because he teaches about God–that job belongs to them! Not only that, the people seem to listen to Jesus. So Jesus takes glory away from the Pharisees. Some people in power do not like Jesus because Jesus has his own power, and the people seem to respect and honour him. Jesus takes honour away from the powerful. People who do not like Jesus try to trick him into saying something wrong. In the Gospel for this Sunday, there are at least two groups of people here, hoping to trap Jesus.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians
The group of Pharisees who do not like Jesus have brought some of King Herod's people with them. (This is not the same King Herod who tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby; this is his nephew.) Herod does not have power of his own but he works for the Romans who have taken over Israel. The emperor back in Rome has the power, and Herod has a lot of money because he works with the emperor.
They say to Jesus:
‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth
They begin by saying nice things to Jesus about himself. They tell him that he is sincere–that he says what he means–and he teaches truth about God. We have to wonder, though, are they sincere? Do they mean these nice things? Do they say what they mean? Do they mean what they say?
Then they ask Jesus a question about money, not about God.
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’
This is the trap? How?
If Jesus says, yes, it is lawful to pay money to the Romans, he will delight the group of Pharisees. They will have distracted Jesus from Kingdom of God talk.
They can tell the people that Jesus does not really understand what the scriptures say about money.
They can tell the people that Jesus thinks about money, not about God.
They can tell the people that Jesus likes the Romans even though Romans do not believe in the One True God.
They can tell the people whatever they want so that the people will no longer listen to Jesus.
All glory will be theirs again.
If Jesus says, no, it is not lawful to pay money to the Romans, he will delight King Herod's people. They will report Jesus to the emperor's people.
They can tell the Romans that Jesus tells people to disobey them.
They can tell the Romans that Jesus tries to build his power to take over Israel.
They can tell the Romans whatever they want so that Jesus will be arrested.
All honour will be theirs again.
Both groups think they have trapped Jesus.
But Jesus says,
‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?’
A hypocrite is someone who is not sincere. A hypocrite says one thing but thinks something entirely different. Jesus never does that. A hypocrite is the opposite of Jesus.
Jesus asks them to bring him a coin.
Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.
‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Give to the emperor...King Herod's people cannot argue with that. Jesus does not tell people to disobey. Fair is fair.
Give to God...the groups of insincere Pharisees have not distracted Jesus from God at all. Jesus still focuses on God. But what can he mean?
Give to God the things that are God's? What things are God's?
We wonder if any of the people look up at the sky...
…or around at the land...
...or notice the animals, the bee drinking from a flower, the donkey pulling a farmer's load...?
We wonder if any of them look at the people around them...
...and realize that all of these people–family, friends, helpers, even the emperor!–have life because of God, and God gives them all to us?
We wonder if they look back up to Jesus standing before his Father's house and know that he belongs to God, too, and God even gives him to us?
We do not know if they know. But we do.
‘Give...to God the things that are God’s.’
How can we do this? How can we give all these things to God? God gives so much. How can we give even a small portion of it back to God?
We cannot. But what can we give instead? We can give God our thanks, and we can give God our praise. We can give God all the glory and honour.
We know that each time we gather at Mass, God gives us Jesus again.
And each time, we are also given a way to show how grateful we are.
The priest takes the bread and wine that have become Jesus for us and lifts them high.
Through him, and with him, and in him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honour is yours,
for ever and ever.
We show how grateful we are by singing as loudly as we can, AMEN!