Matthew 22:15-22

We read in Ecclesiastes 3 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”.  I think God has impeccable timing; here we are in the midst of a global financial meltdown and our Gospel reading brings us to a point where we are able to put it into context, to think about the problems of the world in the light of God’s word.

We’ve seen a fair bit of political grandstanding in the news over the past few weeks, both from our Aussie politicians and the whole presidential race on the other side of the world.  We’re used to people in the public eye setting each other up to be publicly tested or ridiculed.  That was what the Pharisees were trying to do to Jesus.  They plotted to trap him in a public forum, they wanted him to go against his own people and support the Roman rulers over the issue of a tax that was raising funds to pay for their own oppression!

They under-estimated Jesus though, he was much smarter than they gave him credit for.  When they asked him if it was right for them to pay the imperial tax he asked them to show him the coin that was used for paying it.  Funnily enough they actually had one of these coins on them, so they were obviously prepared to pay the tax themselves!  When they handed it over he asked whose image was stamped on it.  On one side was a picture of the emperor with inscription that identifies the particular emperor, or ruler.

Jesus gave them a wise answer, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.  They were gob-smacked, all they could do was walk away with their tails firmly between their legs.  They had tried, but were defeated.

I’ve noticed that the coins of the USA are a bit similar, but on all their money is not only a likeness of one of the presidents of their country but also the words “In God we trust”.  I actually like that, whether they meant it that way or not, they have made a theological statement on their currency.  Even though they may hold their money in their hands, the emphasis is that ultimately it is in God that we should place our trust. 

There are some important lessons to learn from this reading especially at this time in all of our lives, as individuals, as a congregation, as a state, a nation and a global community.

Just as the people in the early church weren’t particularly keen on paying their taxes, we sometimes have the same struggles.  We want to hang on to our hard earned wages; we worked for it, why shouldn’t we keep it?

But if you think about it carefully, where would the money for the recovery package come from if we weren’t paying those taxes in the first place?  Whether we agree or disagree with Mr Rudd’s $10 billion bailout, it had to come from somewhere! 

Like it or not as in Romans 13:
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”.

That’s right, those authorities, our governments, have been put in place by God for our own good, to build our infrastructure, our roads, schools, hospitals, pay for our police and fire departments, all those things that create good order in the world.  That’s why we pray for them regularly in our services, because ultimately we are all subject to God, for the good of his kingdom.

So we are called to pay to the government whatever is due, and sometimes they will even surprise us and give a little back, as they’re planning to do at the moment.

The second part of the text is a bit more difficult to talk about though, it’s a subject that many of us try to avoid, but given the situation around the church at the moment, it’s time we did.  We also need to give back to God what is God’s. 

Some people talk about tithing, which is giving back to God one tenth of everything we earn.  One of the proof texts used for this is Malachi 3:10, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing”.  I’ve heard both sides of the argument for tithing, and rightly or wrongly I’m still not convinced either way, but I do know by reading that text it implies that through giving to God, he will return an abundant blessing to you.

Some may interpret this to mean that if you give lots of money, God will make you financially rich, but that’s not how I see it.  I think whenever we give in whatever form, or whatever value we receive abundantly in return.  As Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Have you ever spent an hour or so with someone who is lonely and just listened to their story or thrown some money in a beggars tin and seen the pleased response on their face?  When we give a little we often receive a lot more in return.  Remember Jesus’ response to the widow who gave all she had even though by comparison with others it was only a little? 

As we read in Matthew 6: “where you treasure is there your heart will be also”.  This is pivotal to the way we give, to the church and even pay our taxes.  When our treasure is in our own possessions, everything that we like to gather around us for our own comfort and edification, then we lose sight of the loving and generous God who made it possible for us to have it in the first place.  But when God is in our heart and guiding the use of our resources it is far easier to focus on the needs of others, the poor, the hungry, those less fortunate than us and give out of our abundance.

We want to see our congregation growing, flourishing, with great crowds of people and programs running all the time, but when we give sparingly we reap sparingly, but if we take the risk and sow bountifully the Lord says we will also reap bountifully.

We are facing difficult times financially, as a congregation, as a community, as a nation and in the global scheme of things, but we need to put our faith in God and his promise to give us each day our daily bread.  The time for prayer is upon us, we need to ask God what he wants us to do and give.

He has already blessed us abundantly, he has paid the ultimate price for us, so that we might live, let’s rejoice in that fact and respond in love and caring for each other, for the church and for the wider community.