Matthew 22:15-22, Lectionary 29 A, October 19, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Growing up, I cannot tell you how many times people told me that I look just like my father. At church, there were those quintessential old ladies who would pinch my cheek and say, “You are the spitting image of your father.” I may look like you, Dad, but I don’t know about being your “spitting image.”
Why is that phrase so popular? When people tell me that I look like my dad, aren't they implying that I look less like my mother? Or that I don’t look like my sister? I know these old ladies meant well, but I don’t know that I agree with them. I have genetic code from both of my parents, and my sister and I do look alike.
Never, throughout my years growing up in the Lutheran church, did an old lady pinch my cheek and say, “You are the spitting image of our God.” I was created in the image of God, and I bear God’s image just as much as I bear the image of my parents. This word, image, is used in today’s gospel when the Pharisees find the emperor’s likeness on a coin, but Jesus is implying something deeper.
In this lesson from Matthew, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus. They ask if it is legal to pay taxes. They want Jesus to pick sides between the government and the church. Certainly if he choses one, then the other would make him an enemy. From the Pharisees’ perspective, this is the perfect way to destroy Jesus.
Instead, Jesus asks whose image is on their coin. Then he gives this famous proclamation, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Therefore, Jesus is implying that the coins belong to Caesar because they bear his image; a likeness of his face is carved into the coins.
Certainly we understand what Jesus means when he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” We must give taxes to the government and fulfill our duties as citizens. As Americans, we have the great opportunity to vote. And as Iowans, our votes this election can make a difference in our local and national government. In many ways, we do give back to our government what belongs to it.
But when Jesus says, “Give to God what is God’s,” what does he mean? Whose image do we bear? Certainly we look like our parents and our siblings, but our parents release authority over us when we become adults and move out. God never does such a thing. We never move out of God’s house, because this whole world belongs to God. Even from the beginning, God created us in God’s image.
This is more than just how we look; it also includes how we act and how we live. Because we bear the image of God, Jesus says that we are to give our whole selves to God - our whole body, our whole property, and our whole lives belong to God. Always. Jesus is calling us to serve God through all that we do, all that we give, and all that we are.
So, we bear God’s image in the words that we speak, in the work that we do, and the offerings that we share with the church. Our God loves us so much and gives us so many blessings, ten percent of our income seems such a small way to give back to God.
The season of stewardship is upon us. As we approach the Harvest Feast and a new pledge drive, we need to get a new set of questions. As you consider how much you will give this year and next, do not ask yourself: How much do I need to give so that the church’s bills get paid?
Do not ask: How much can I bear to give up at the end of the month?
Do not ask: What do my donations really do, anyway?
These are business-like questions, not faith-based questions. They are about what the church needs to survive, not how we can help the church thrive. As we consider our giving, our focus should not be on this church or on our own pockets. Instead, our offerings to our God should be based on God’s love for us.
Instead of those business-like questions, ask yourself these faith-based questions: What percent of my income God is calling me to give?
Ask yourself: How can I return thanks to God for the many blessings in my life?
Ask: How is God calling me to use those blessings?
We may begrudgingly pay our taxes to the government because we have to, but we don’t have to have the same perspective on our tithes. Your giving to this church and your donations outside this church are completely dependent upon your faith. Jesus tells you to give to God what is God’s.
You bear the image of God. Everything that you have, everything you do, and everything you are belong to God. To quote Harry Wendt, “No longer is the question, ‘How much of my money should I give to God?’ Now the question is, ‘How much of God’s money do I dare keep for myself?’” (Charles Lane, Ask Thank Tell, p. 29)
This is a powerful question, and I pray that you might find a powerful answer. God is calling us to do wonderful ministries through this church. Together, we can bear God's image in this world. Amen.