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Readings

Reading: Matthew 22:15-22

Supplementary Reading: 1 Peter 2:9-25

Devotional

Infuriated by everything Jesus has done over the last couple of days and by his pointed teaching in the temple courts, the religious leaders faced a dilemma. As Matthew puts it just a few verses earlier; ‘Although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.’ Jesus’ popularity with the general population was high which constrained them from acting out their determined desire to arrest him. They needed a plan to damage his reputation in front of the crowd captured by his life and teaching.

Their longing to destroy Jesus saw the Pharisees form a very unlikely alliance. Matthew discloses to us they joined forces with their arch rivals the Herodians. Together, they posed a carefully constructed question designed to trap Jesus by his answer. The Herodians were a political party that wanted to restore a Herod to the throne in Judea as well as other areas previously ruled by Herod the Great. They were political foes of the Pharisees who wished to restore the kingdom of David. This unlikely partnership plotted against Jesus.

The question in its self-seemed simple, but no matter the answer those scheming saw trouble ahead for Jesus; ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

If he says pay, Jesus will be branded a traitor to the Jewish cause and lose favour with the people. If he says don’t pay, he will be branded a revolutionary, bringing the wroth of the occupying Roman government. Either way, the alliance wins! Recognising the malice behind the question, Jesus deems his questioners as hypocrites, as they were not posing the query to learn from him but to harm him. Jesus forces them to dig down into their own hearts discovering their true motives. It is often true of God the Holy Spirit in our own lives that he does not answer all our questions fully driving us to dig in to our own hearts and push into God where we find divine wisdom that goes beyond a simple yes and no answer.

Jesus told them to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. If stopped at render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s he would have effectively been saying pay up. However, by completing his sentence he shapes the way his hearers were to pay their taxes was shaped by their relationship with God.

After all, the things that belong to God is everything. And the things that belong to any earthly authority are firstly limited and secondly granted by God. This is asserted in a conversation, yet to happen in our journey to Easter, between Jesus and Governor Pilate. Jesus says: ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’. (John 19:11) Even the things that belonged to Caesar belongs to God because Caesar has what he has because of God.

‘When you know that all is God’s, then anything you render to Caesar you will render for God’s sake. Any authority you ascribe to Caesar you will ascribe to him for the sake of God’s greater authority. Any obedience you render to Caesar you will render for the sake of the obedience you owe first to God. Any claim Caesar makes on you, you test by the infinitely higher claim God has on you.’ – John Piper

Everything is God’s, and this limits what is Caesar’s and how you render it to him. Jesus is saying pay your taxes, recognising everything belongs to God, which shapes your giving to Caesar as ‘unto to the Lord’ an act of worship.

Prayer

Thank you for reminding me that everything belongs to you and everything I have belongs to you. Thank you for everything you have entrusted to me. Help me to worship you rather than what you have given me and help me to use my time, my talent and my treasure in a holy act of worship before you.

Based on today's reading, what is one thing God is saying to you?

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