Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity
O GOD, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Philippians 3: 17-21
BRETHREN, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.
15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way (Matt 22:15-22)
The Collect prays that we ask out of faith that such petitions might be granted. But is it possible to ask out of greed or jealousy as did the Pharisees and Herodians in our Gospel today. Whether they knew it or not, their prayers of deception were made to God (God the Son). The Herodians were those who supported the Roman puppet king, Herod. But the Pharisees were vehemently opposed to Roman rule. How could these two be allied against Christ. I believe it is because both considered Christ a greater threat to the Roman rule (Herodians), or the religious life (Pharisees) of Israel. Both wanted, above all else to preserve their power over the people. But Christ came as the great Liberator. This, they could not bear – and neither can the larger religious institutions, or governmental powers, tolerate Christ today.
As our Epistle so well points out, we have our citizenship in heaven, not in the dirty and political premises of this world. Our motives should never be centered on material prosperity, but spiritual enlightenment.
We read how those wicked men of the Pharisees conspire with their mortal enemies, the Herodians, to entangle Christ in His words and ministry.
Strange how enemies can unite against One they consider of greater threat. They fear that One who speaks truth cannot be bested by those whose works are fleshly.
They fear their little positions of authority and seek to murder Him to whom ALL truth and authority belongs.
It is a deaf EAR they turn to the Gospel of Christ. They only seek something of which to charge Him or of which to complain. They have witnessed more of His miracles of healing, restoration to life, and acts of mercy than most of His own disciples, yet, they fail to believe – WHY?
It is because they refuse to believe!
Such contentious ones have not the Mind and love of Christ in their hearts.
True love and mercy are not divisible. That Love of Christ which we have received is authenticated by that same love and compassion we show to one another.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5)
Where the love of Christ is, there can be no division. Christ is not divided against Himself! His Mind is also constant – the same yesterday, today, and forever.
They cunningly say to Jesus: Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
Like good politicians, these men will use deception, or even flattery, to ensnare a good man.
We pay tribute today in the form of taxes. Taxes are essential to provide those limited government services necessary to ensure defense, order and a suitable environment for trade. It is something we owe Caesar if we are to live within the borders of his dominion.
If Christ insists that we pay tribute to Caesar, He will have lost the support of the people. But if He says that we should NOT, He incurs the wrath of Rome.
So how does Christ respond to these scoundrels?
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
Christ never hesitated to call a spade a spade.
He was not very politically correct was He?
He then says: 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? In Rome, Caesar’s money, inscribed with his image, was the coin of the realm. IN England, it is the image of the Queen. In Denmark, it is the image of the King. In America, it may be George Washington, or Ben Franklin, or another of the Founding Fathers. The coin of the realm in worldly governments bears the image of the worldly ruler; however, are we not citizens of another kingdom. In the Kingdom of God, the coin of the realm bears the image of our Lord Jesus Christ – His visage and likeness. Do we bear a dual citizenship? Though we must remain IN the world, we are not to be part and party to it.
Ships are wonderful vessels constructed for the purpose of bearing great burdens of merchandise across the sea. They are, in fact, made to be in the sea. As long as they travel in the sea, all is well. But when the sea gets into the ship, tragedy stands at the door. Ships are like the church. The Church is made to season the world and to be a sweet savor to it; but when the world gets into the Church, it will lose its savor.
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
The image and superscription of God: The Christian disciple is as silver, purified seven times by the Refiner. He assumes the image and likeness of His Lord. The silver coin, once tamped by the authority of government, assumes the value that the authority assigns by his stamp. So, too, does the Christian assume the authority to teach the Word to all who will listen. The authority does not reside in the coin, or in the disciple, but the authorizing power. The value assigned to the coinage of Heaven is the outpoured blood of our Lord.
American coinage is the only in the world that has consistently appealed to the trust of God in its mintage. In God We Trust! In America, we the people are Caesar.
We set our rulers up, and we take them down by our exercise of the franchise. We can blame no one for the ungodliness of our rulers…. but ourselves. We will always get precisely the kind of ruler we deserve!
22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way The Words of God confuse the learned and the deceitful. In His mouth there is no deceit nor shadow of turning.
Are we citizens of God’s Kingdom?
Are we stamped with His image of ownership and authority?
What must we render unto God to receive that title of coinage of the realm? All of our selves – our being and our daily currency should reflect His Image just as the coin of the nation represents the image and authority of that nation.
When men know you, may they also know Christ through you. I pray that the stamp of Christ is apparent upon all who are within range of my voice today.