"Facing God" - Pentecost 20A
Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
October 22, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 22:15-22

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: October 22, 2017, Pentecost 20A

Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22


Facing God


                Think about how much faith is part of everyday living. And not necessarily faith in God; simply “faith”. We go to sleep each night with the faith that we will wake up in the same place the next morning. We have faith that our spouse will still be present. Our children will be there. Reality as we know it will remain unchanged from one night to another. Our money – these little slips of paper that claim to be worth a certain amount – still holds its value from one day to the next. And even if we don’t particularly care for the current government in Washington, most of us have faith that the basic functions of government will continue. There will still be a military to protect us from foreign threats; Social Security checks will still go out; Medicare will still function. We may complain about all these things, but for the most part, we believe that life will go on as normal.


                Life will go on from day-to-day. This seems to undergird the question that the Pharisees and Herodians pose to Jesus. It doesn’t really matter how Jesus answers their question about taxation, after all – there will still be taxes, whether or not they are lawful (for the record, it is fascinating that Matthew lumps the Herodians and Pharisees here, as they had opposite opinions regarding taxation – the Herodians believed the tax to be lawful, while the Pharisees believed it to be unlawful collusion with an occupying power). No, the question is simply intended to discredit Jesus, one way or the other – either by labeling him “soft on Rome” or “subversive to Rome”. The trap is skillfully set.


                Jesus, however, has an amazing ability to discern any human heart. He sees through their motives right away. He knows that their question isn’t sincere. Hence why he calls them hypocrites and calls out their motives right away. He asks them to produce the coin paid for the tax, the denarius.


                Long before the days of checks, debit, and credit cards, economic transactions were done in two ways: either through the barter system, or through coined money. One of these coins was the denarius. We remember this coin; it was the silver piece used for the “usual daily wage” for the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. This coin was minted by Rome. It contained the face of the emperor, and the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus”. In other words, according to the Ten Commandments, this coin is an idol. Not only is it a graven image of a human being, it claims that human being is divine, the son of a god. Not only was the idea of a tribute tax onerous, but the fact that faithful Jews had to handle idolatrous coins to pay it made it doubly humiliating.


                For some reason, Jesus’ inquisitors have the coin ready at hand. We can picture Jesus looking at it, shrugging his shoulders, and saying, “Give back to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Caesar obviously thinks that the coin is so important; that the coin is actually worth something – so give it back to him. The things that are God’s are worth incomparably more.


                For this coin to have any kind of worth, people need to believe that it is worth something. Just like with our paper money today. Just like with gold and silver. None of those things is worth anything unless people believe they are worth something. If the emperor is so concerned about silver and gold, then let him be concerned about it. God’s people are called to be concerned about something more.


                This doesn’t mean that money and how we use it isn’t an important part of being a faithful Christian. It is. This passage simply asks us to consider: what has ultimate worth in our world?


                It isn’t silver and gold. It isn’t these little pieces of paper in our pockets. It is every single thing that God created and called good, especially human beings, in Genesis 1. Genesis 1:27 tells us, in verse, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” If you want to know where to see the image of God, look at the people around you. Look at yourself in the mirror. That is where God has put God’s own image. That is what is ultimately worth something.


                What would our world be like if we all believed that? What would happen if we really believed that each human being, no matter who they are or where they come from, what skin color they have or what gender they are, what religion they have or even if they have faith at all – what would happen if we believed that they had ultimate worth in the sight of God?


                We might find ourselves actually facing God in the face of another. Yes, it is true that people are sinful, including ourselves – and that we often do things that obscure the image of God in ourselves. But if we could believe what God asks us to believe – that each human being bear the image of God, no matter how obscured or shadowed – it might be a world more in touch with God’s wholeness and holiness.


                Moses asked to see God’s glory directly, face-to-face. He was denied that chance because a direct encounter with God’s glory would be fatal. But God did tell Moses that after concealing his “face”, he would remove his “hand”, and Moses would be able to see his “back”. The way some rabbis have thought of God’s “back” is fascinating. They take it to mean, “the place where God just was”. God’s back is where we can see residual glory, residual holiness. It is where we get a taste of that wholeness that we are promised one day in full. Seeing it is available to us now, to us today. Let God’s grace work in you to show you “where he just was” in another. Let the emperor’s go to the emperor, but remember what truly bears the image of God.


                Let us pray.


                Jesus, as God enfleshed, you show us how God intended us to be. Help us to see the image of God in each other, and help us grow in our humanity, so that image can become clearer in and to us. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.