Submit Your Own!
Free Sample for October 19, 2014
By David Howell
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Preaching Matthew 22:15-22
Matthew engages a subject that is often difficult to handle from the pulpit—money. In our capitalist, consumerist, and materialistic economy, congregations often struggle to have honest conversations about the way we earn, spend, and invest money. In today’s reading from Matthew, the Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to entrap Jesus with a question about taxes. They want Jesus to say something that they can use against him to show that he is a religious fraud, or worse, a threat to the government.
Since this text is a bit unsettling, any sermon that takes it seriously may be a bit unsettling to the listeners. A common perspective among Christians in the United States of America is that being a good Christian is identical to being a good American. Many people do not see any distinction between God and country. What is good for one is automatically good for the other. Unbraiding the strands of faith and citizenship is a risky but profitable homiletic possibility for this text.
The opponents of Jesus seek to discredit him by luring him into a debate on taxes. First, they heap praise upon him. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, and show deference to no one; for you do you not regard people with partiality.” Then they ask a crucial question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
Jesus’ opponents want to know where he stands on the question of devotion to God and country. Where do his loyalties lie? To whom does he give ultimate allegiance? These are questions worth asking our congregation. Where do our loyalties lie? To whom do we give ultimate allegiance?
Matthew is giving us a perspective on discipleship. Discipleship is costly, as Matthew has already made clear (Mt 8:18-22; 16:24-26; 18:2-5). Today’s reading reminds us that discipleship involves a choice. We have to decide how we will live in our own society. To help the congregation see the relevance of the questions in the text, the preacher may find it helpful to lift up contemporary analogs. How are today’s local or national politics challenging the tenets of faith? How are the tenets of faith at odds with what is expected of us from the culture at large?
Jesus asks to see the coin used to pay taxes. The coin would have had the image of Caesar Augustus along with an inscription that he was the “son of divine Augustus.” Then Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” We are often tempted to divide our lives into sacred and secular categories and even live according to two separate codes of conduct. Is this really a faithful way to live? Psalm 24 reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s, along with everything in the earth as well.
Jesus’ intellectual dexterity is no match for his opponents. They thought they were going to trap him with a trick question, but their question exposed their hypocrisy. Supposedly, the Jewish leaders despised the Roman occupation so much that they did not buy and sell using Roman money, which featured the idolatrous image of Caesar who claimed to be divine. But when Jesus asks the Pharisees to produce a coin, they do so without any difficulty. Jesus stands his ground on the basis of the first commandment. His mission will not be side tracked by political spin.
This text challenges our congregations to remember that our ultimate allegiance is to God, not to a political party, economic system, or nation. When the people heard Jesus say these things, they were amazed. If we preach the good news that we belong only to God and we bear God’s image in our humanity, my guess is that our congregations will be amazed, too.
Prince Raney Rivers
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