"Now is the Time" Stewardship Emphasis Sunday #3
Time After Pentecost – (A) Matthew 22:15-22 and Corinthians 8:1-15,9:7-8 October 19, 2008
Although this story has often been used (over the years) to formulate some sort of “key” for Christians to know how to “act” in relationship to our country and to our God—the “Two Kingdom” formula. I believe the Gospel writer, however, is more interested here in showing how Jesus got himself out of this trap that was set for him. This is the story of an escape, which is helpful for us to understand, even in our own day and age.
You see, in this story Jesus is approached by some of the Pharisees’ disciples along with some Herodians, and together these men try to maneuver Jesus into a difficult and embarrassing position. The tax under discussion (sometimes called “the Head tax) was, in Jesus day, a prerequisite (or a mandate from Rome) for living peaceably as a subject of the Roman Empire. In other words, “Pay the tax and you get the “rights” of a Roman subject living under Roman occupation.
Now, the characters here are interesting. The Herodians (as in King Herod) especially would have supported the tax since this was the “ruling party” of the Jews; the ruling party who were able to stay in power… because Rome kept them in power.
Keep in mind that this was a huge political issue of Jesus’ day. So there were others (on the other side of this political equation) who felt that being forced to pay the Head-tax was absolutely horrible and good cause for rebellion against Rome (and Herod). So, you see whichever side Jesus took to their test / their trap, the Pharisees were obviously putting him in a difficult situation.
Yet, and this is the point about Jesus, rather than falling into this trap; rather than letting someone else set his agenda for him, Jesus came clear that politics was not his purpose. No, his focus is upon a different issue altogether—a more important issue—which challenges these challengers.
You see, the Pharisees try to trap him by giving him two options: Caesar’s tax or not?
Jesus, however, counters with two options or focuses of his own:
1) You can choose to dwell on paying Caesar
2) Or you can focus on giving to God.
This, of course, is (or should be) the primary focus of every faithful Jew or Christian—Giving to God. By challenging this basic allegiance of Pharisees, Jesus has trumped their trap.
Now, perhaps this is not the most satisfying response to their question, yet, perhaps the role of Jesus the Messiah is not to answer our questions or decide our debated issues. Perhaps, instead, the role of Jesus is to make sure we don’t forget our most important issue which is always our faithful allegiance to God.
Brothers and Sisters, it is so easy for our outlook in life, as well as our agenda, to be high jacked by other people. Especially during this political season it is important to keep in the forefront of our attention that we are following Christ and that other agendas don’t necessarily match up with the focus he wants us to have.
It’s so easy to get off track, though.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe part of our religion—the challenge that Jesus gives by the example he sets in this story—is for us to stop letting life set our entire agenda. By pointing away from Rome and toward God, Jesus is saying “You have unlimited possibilities. You have the opportunity (and the power) to give of what you have, to the thing(s) that you deem important!
You do not have to dwell on the imposed taxes: bills and fees and unavoidable payments.
You do not even have to orient you life around what “I ought to.”
In our First Reading this morning, from II Corinthians 8, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth from the Macedonian churches, conveying their plea to allow them the “privilege” of contributing to an offering to be taken to the church in Jerusalem. “Please, allow us to take part in this ministry/this service!” Not because they have to, or because they ought, but because they want to. In summary, Paul reminds us that “God loves a cheerful giver.” How true?! What a blessing to enjoy the work and the gifts we bring with our life; to set our own agenda where we can, to give to the things we deem important!
I believe we are called to responsibility on this matter. God loves a cheerful giver, so… ask yourself this one question: What do you want to give to? What, when your life is said and done, do you want to have contributed to (not just with your money, but with your time and energy as well?) What do you want to give to?
Have you ever experienced the joy of giving, just for the sake of giving? Brothers and sisters, this is what life is for! This is what it’s all about. This is what gives life meaning!
The best example is when I was a child and my father took me at Christmas or on birthdays to get presents for my mother… I was so excited to give! Do you know that feeling?!
That is the feeling God wants us to have – to know – to dwell upon with our lives. This is the spirit of Jesus, who gave of himself entirely.
I heard a story this week about a family, a wife and kids, who were planning to get the father of the household a Father’s Day present… A new Webber Grill. The family was so excited, not because they were going to get anything out of it. They were excited just because they knew their father liked to cook!
Brothers and Sisters, this is what is going on at Pella right now. We are planning for a building project, not for us. We are mortal and we never know how long we might even be here. No, we are doing this whole thing for the cook! It’s all a gift for our Heavenly Father. May the grace of God, which has given you everything you are and everything you have, dwell in you richly.
Pastor Joshua Magyar
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270