Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pay it forward

Gospel  Matthew 22:15-21 

The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’

I guess it's hard for people who are so used to things the way they are - even if they're bad - to change. 'Cause they kind of give up. And when they do, everybody kind of loses.(Pay it forward)

Matthew again showing his bitterness towards the Temple and perhaps, this time, with some justification. That the Pharisees seek to trap Jesus into a no-win situation seems obvious. The flowery compliments tell us that much - strange words from people who value rank and hierarchy and see fear as a good thing - for it keeps others in their place. And Jesus does not know his place.

Jesus is acknowledged not so much as fearless preacher but as something of an anarchist; that we have a choice to pay or not pay taxes is not one most of us have ever considered and in Roman times the wrong decision would have resulted in something more final that fines or imprisonment. For Jesus to suggest that taxes should not be paid would have been outrageous; those bent on stirring the pot of political and civil unrest would have had a field day.

The Pharisees perhaps are trying to make links between Jesus and the tax collectors - remembering that he had friends and Apostles in this occupation. No-one would have considered a tax collector honest or unafraid; working with the Romans made tax collectors willing collaborators in the exploitation of their own people. Most Jews lived on or below the poverty line but there was always Caesar needing to be paid and the tax collector's own commission on top of that; they were not popular with anyone.

Nothing for the Temple to sneer at though. Caesar's money wasn't welcome near the Temple; but the Law stated that sacrifices had to be bought and sold; so they had their own Temple money which could be exchanged - with commission of course - at the Temple gates (part of the trade that angers Jesus later on). It seems money, no matter whose head is on it, has its own agenda and it rarely brings out the best in people.

For some of us the realisation comes that money is not the answer. When we grow in our spiritual life the material world can seem less important. There are times when there is a real temptation to draw back from the world; to believe we are not part of that 'scene' anymore; we have moved on.

There is a danger in seeing Jesus' statement as a confirmation that we can exclude ourselves from what goes on around us because we are 'God's people'. That we can look out at the rest of the world and accuse others of living in 'Caesar's pocket' - full of the colourful temptations and ambitions that money, hierarchy and rank can bring with them.

Notice that Jesus tells us to do both - to give to Caesar and to give to God. To ensure that what Caesar gets is no more than is called for; that God gets all that He gives. To see what our vocation as God's people asks of us.

And what is that?

Our 'selves'? Our Love? To love God with all our might and our neighbour as ourselves?
To be the Sheep of the parable; feeding, clothing, loving the least of all.

That would mean not drawing back from the world; not judging, excluding or accusing; but giving. Being blessed for being meek and poor of spirit; for hungering for what is right and becoming peacemakers; for mourning what is not right and being persecuted because of it.

Giving God what is God's will will cost you. It will cost you your life.





claire said...

Quite a well-informed and thought-provoking post, Word! Thank you.

I wish I could give myself and my life to Godde once and for all. But I never seem to be able to do it. As if this self I want to give is like a slippery fish that gets away, again and again.

But maybe I'm Godde's already and I should not worry. Just do my bit :-)

Thank you again, Word.


Word in the Hand said...

Discussing it with a confirmation candidate tonight we decided it was part of the paradox - we already belong we just spend our lives trying to live up to it and it's a day by day (sometimes minute by minute) journey.
Thanks for your visit