Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving: Why give thanks?

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's"
(New International Version, Matthew 22:21).

When Jesus says the above statement to the Pharisees, he teaches them with truth. The leaders of nations will in fact be honored by the people who benefit from their ways. At the time, Rome was a civilization based on innovation, slave labor, imperial wealth and military might. Though many suffered by way of extreme class discrimination, those who did prosper owed their enjoyment in life to the state that hosted their self-serving circumstances.

Jesus reverses the question trap of the Pharisees. By asking him if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees expect Jesus to say no. Of course the teacher would not support a way of life that oppressed so many people. Answering yes to their question would contradict his altruistic teachings and destroy his religious credibility. But if Jesus did say no, then he would be considered unlawful and subject to arrest. Jesus sees through their trap and rightly calls them "hypocrites." And then Jesus teaches truth.

He questions the coin and its inscription. The Pharisees clearly express that the coin belongs to Caesar. It has his face and his name on it. Caesar as the ruler of Rome does in fact own every coin stamped with his name and his picture. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." The Pharisees easily understand. Even though coins may be in the pockets of many citizens, the citizens still carry what ultimately belongs to Caesar. The coins are valuable only insofar as the ruler's leadership and power. If Caesar raises taxes and requires a greater return of the coins stamped with his name and face, so be it. It's Caesar's money. So Jesus shows the Pharisees that they are in fact in financial bondage to Caesar. He could require whatever he wants. It's his money. All of it.

So how does Jesus teach truth? Even as the Pharisees tried to trap him into arrest with their question, he drives them further into their own beliefs. "Give to God what is God's." The Pharisees knew their scriptures. The only possible conclusion they could have is obvious. Everything. Everything is God's. The Word is written on hearts in the same way that Caesar's name was inscribed on his coins. People are in fact created through God's work just like the coinage is minted and distributed through Caesar's order and control. But God is the maker of life. Jesus makes the comparison absolutely clear. Caesar is entitled to all that he makes possible in Rome, and God is entitled to all that he makes possible in all of creation.

Basically, the Pharisees pressed Jesus for a single answer, and he revealed truth.

"When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away" (New International Version, Matthew 22:22).

For everything we do and everything we make, God owns it all. Thanks be to God.

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