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Sunday, October 18, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 22:15–22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. (NRSV)
As the saying goes, “there are two certainties in life: death and taxes.” Apparently that was true in Jesus’ time as well. What stands out to me most about this passage is Jesus’ response: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
As I sit in my comfortably furnished condo glancing at the many possessions that surround me, I am reminded that none of this is truly mine. Sure, one could argue that I've worked hard to achieve what I have in life, but then one could also argue that I wouldn’t be where I am in life today without God, and thus all that I have and am is because of God.
As I pondered this passage, I was reminded of the scene in Les Miserables with the bishop and the silver. For those of you who haven’t seen the musical or read Hugo’s masterpiece, the bishop takes in Jean Valjean, an escaped convict, and offers him food and shelter during the night. Despite being advised otherwise, the bishop refuses to lock up his silver, and during the night Valjean steals these possessions but is later caught and returned to the bishop’s residence. Instead of condemning Valjean, though, the bishop informs the police inspector that the silver was in fact a gift to Valjean.
I wonder if the bishop, like Jesus, understood that none of his prized possessions were in fact his, that they belonged instead to God and to God’s people.
A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Tibet; what struck me most about this land, despite the hardship, oppression, and poverty that existed there, was that I had never before encountered a more devout people. As a I visited a local Buddhist monastery and witnessed the people offer up their alms, my tour guide, a local Tibetian, stated that the biggest difference between the West and Tibet was that Westerners worked hard so that they may have experiences and material goods but Tibetans worked hard so that they could give these things away.
Dear Lord, in a world filled with ever-increasing materialism and vanity, help us to find instead charity and humility. Help us, O Lord, to remember what belongs to you so that we may give back to you all that you have given to us; in your mighty name we pray. Amen.
Written by Stephanie Jenks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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