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Tax Season


Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it." And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose image is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Jesus said to them, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were utterly amazed at him.

While it's hard to argue that this season we are currently in is one of the most politically charged and divisive seasons our country has seen in quite a while, it almost pales in comparison to what was going on in Jesus' day. Here we find ourselves in the temple of Jerusalem, center of a tiny little country that had for years been A) claiming to be the holy people of God and B) getting absolutely demolished by the bigger nations around them. So they are a free people, certain that they should be free to live and worship as they please. And yet, the Romans control their every move, and are taxing them insanely high rates to pay for an army that will help them capture and control other little nations. Also, Caesar has this annoying habit of calling himself God, which doesn't sit well with the nation of Israel.

All of this shows up at Jesus's feet as he's teaching in the temple, with the intention of trapping Jesus in some political faux-pas. It's the biblical equivalent of that really annoying Facebook debate where no one will win.

But what is really interesting here is Jesus' response. It's so subtle that we might miss that he is making a much bigger claim than just about politics or taxes or money or rulers. How exactly does Jesus determine what belongs to the emperor? Because the emperor's image is on it. It's a little like marking your food in a communal fridge, whatever carries the brand of Caesar is Caesar's. So if that's how Jesus figures out what belongs to Caesar, we are left with a question aren't we?

What belongs to God?

If you applied the same logic, the same method of figuring out what belongs to who, you would have to say that the things that belong to God are the things that bear God's image.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

What belongs to God? You and I do. We are the ones that carry the image of God in our flesh, bones, and soul. Jesus is making a radical claim here buried within a tired old political argument. You are claimed, loved, and owned by God. You belong in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps Jesus wanted to put theological debates and arguments in their proper context. Let Caesar worry about all that. God has bigger plans for you and I.

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