'Give to the Emperor what is the Emperor's and to God what is God's'*
I want us to begin our reflections by thinking about putting Jesus on a banknote.
How would you feel about seeing Jesus’ face on a bank note or a coin?
What would you think? What does it mean?
What does your reaction tell you?
So, let’s think about: where do we see Jesus’ face?
This conversation between the Pharisees and Jesus opens up a huge space for us, helps us, if you prefer, see the difference between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of the world.
Where does the Emperor’s glory lie? It resides in his worldly wealth, power and status. It is present in his possessions and in the people that he controls and governs. He has to make present his glory in his armies and in his ability to exact taxes from the people.
Where does God’s glory lie? Well let’s turn to Moses. There is something about God’s glory and name that is hidden and mysterious. His glory is much harder to define and understand. He reveals it to whom he wishes. And we cannot take on the full extent of his glory, or we would die.
God’s glory rather than being defined in what he owns and controls is to be defined in what he gives freedom to and where his grace is at work. God owns nothing in any way that we understand it. He creates, gives life and sets us free. We can only voluntarily choose to put ourselves back in relationship with God; it cannot be forced upon us.
Yet, he never stops loving us and he wants to see that loved returned, he seeks us out. As Moses wandered the wilderness with a disobedient and unfaithful bunch of exiles he learnt over and again about God’s resolve to be merciful, be lenient and to give them another chance. God would rebuild the tablets of stone and in so doing rebuild his relationship with the people. He would offer them a chance to come back in relationship with him. He would not give up on them. So it is with us. God has made us and loves us and has set us free, but he desires us to recognise him and to live life to its fullest by living with his laws and in his kingdom. It is ‘we’ who can choose to make ourselves God’s possessions, he never forces us. We are free to choose.
If the Emperor chooses to put his face on a coin, on the system of exchange and control that serves his kingdom and his ends the best, where does God choose to put his face? God’s face can be seen in the lonely and vulnerable being invite into community; in the poor and downcast being raised up; in the merciful and humble rejecting the misuse of power; in a community being created out of the fragments of people’s lives; a home being formed by the lost and the frightened, by the rich and the proud. In its fullest it is seen in the suffering servant, the holy one Himself - in Jesus we see God’s name and glory revealed.
Being part of a Christian community then is about being transformed and being re-formed in the way of the Cross and Christian discipleship. It is about letting go of the things that control us and define us in an oppressive way and stepping into the generous and grace filled rule of God. Where God allows us to discover and make our own choices – to set us free from all sorts of slavery.
What do I owe to or give to God – my allegiance, my faithfulness, my devotion, my everything.
What do I give my country, just my taxes….
We have to keep asking ourselves which kingdom do I want to be in? Where does my allegiance lie? Where is salvation to be found? What will I do with my freedom?
Matthew 22: 15-22 The Question about Paying Taxes
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.
Exodus 33:12-end Moses’ Intercession
Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’