20th Sunday after Pentecost | Paying Taxes to Caesar – Mt. 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22

Lutheran Church of The Way, 2017

Pentecost 20 A




Over these last weeks Jesus has been telling us, in so many ways,

What the Kingdom of God is like.


In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard,

we learned that God does not reward people based on anything they’ve done.

He’ll give to those latecomers everything he gives to the early risers.

It’s not fair, but that’s ultimately very good news.


In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, we learned that in the Kingdom of God,

He will not behave the way we expect Him to.

Yes, those tenants should have been killed for what they did to the Master’s Son.

But instead of destroying us, as He had every right to, He made us heirs with His Son.


Just last week, in the Parable of the Wedding Feast,

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is like a party,

And while He wants you there desperately, He wants you there on His terms.

Nothing you can do will get you in the door, or a seat at the table.

No, it is only by grace and mercy.

You and I can’t earn it, and we’ll just have to live with that.


All of this seems wrong somehow.

Ironically, the message that God will work out salvation for you,

And that He will give it as a free gift,

That comes as a great threat.


And so the Pharisees send their disciples to Jesus with a prepared script.

The object of the game, of course, is to trap Him.


Because if they can trap Him, they can kill Him.

And if they kill Him, then they win.


What do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?


If He answers, “No,”

The Roman authorities will call Him a rebel.

If He answers, “Yes,”

The Jews will call Him a blasphemer and a traitor,

since Caesar has declared himself god.


Either answer means certain death.

So Jesus, like a good Rabbi,

Answers their question with a question.


“Why are you trying to trap Me?” He asks. “Show Me the coins you pay with.”


So they hand Him a coin, and He simply points out what everyone knew all along:

The coin belongs to Caesar.

The coin belongs to Caesar because it has his name on it.


And with that, Jesus gives on of the greatest non-answers of all time:


“Well then,” He says, “Pay Caesar what belongs to him,

And pay God what belongs to Him.”


Very well. What does that mean?

That’s a good Lutheran question.


It means we learn something more about Jesus.


Of course Jesus is smart,

And crafty,

And bright,

And willing to put you in your place;

But that’s nothing you didn’t already know.


What you learn from this story today is that Jesus is also very possessive.

In this sense, He is very much like Caesar:

He wants what belongs to Him.


Now, just how will that be sorted out?

Jesus makes it clear.


If Caesar has his name on it, then it belongs to him.

And if God has His name on it, then it belongs to Him.

That’s the real message that Jesus is preaching.


It’s not about money.

It’s not primarily about the separation of Church and State either.

It’s not even about taxing and tithing.


Though it is rather interesting that today Caesar takes around 30% of your money,

While the Lord asks for only 10%.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on Him when He asks.

But that’s a different sermon.



The real point of this story is possession.

It’s about who belongs to whom.


Coins belong to Caesar because they have his name on them.

You belong to God because He has His name on you.


You saw it happen just now:


“Sylvie, receive the sign of the cross both upon your head and upon your heart,

to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.

Sylvie, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


You, the baptized, the Church, you belong to God because He has His name on you.


He didn’t buy you with Caesar’s coins.

He bought you with the blood of His only Son.

It’s exactly the opposite the way we would expect any self-respecting God to act.

To give when by right He should take.

But that’s exactly what He does.


When the Father gave us His Son at Christmas,

He rendered unto us what belongs to Him.


When the Son gave Himself at the Cross,

We rendered unto Him what belonged to us: all our sin, all our shame.


When the Father and Son together gave us the Spirit at Pentecost,

When God poured Himself onto you in Holy Baptism,

When He put His name on you,

When He rendered unto you what belongs to Him:

His name and His kingdom,

He showed you that, possessiveness aside; He is really nothing like Caesar.


Not everyone knows this about Him.

By and large, the world still sees Him only as a divine judge, or a mad king,

Anything except the kind of God who wants to have a drink with you and celebrate.


And so it is your job,

As those who have been invited to the party,

As those who belong to Him,

As those who bear His Name,

It is your job to tell the world His story.

You can start by rendering unto God what belongs to God.


You can start by giving…yourself.

Your life, Your death,

Your past and your present,

Your prayers and your pleas,

Your joys and your sorrows,

Your children and your treasure.


The world sees that.

The world hears that.

And it’s what makes them ask,

“What sort of God is this that you would serve Him so?”


And then you can tell them.
Then you can give to them, too.

Open ears, kind words,

Patience, mercy, and love.

That’s how God gets the best use of those who belong to Him.


You can’t do it on your own.

He knows this.

And so to strengthen you, to forgive you, and bless you, and energize you,

Today He renders unto You what belongs to Him:

Today, again, Jesus gives to you, Himself:

Body and Blood, soul and divinity, and a share in His divine life.


“And when the heard it they marveled.”

And they stayed with Him forever, for they are His.




This sermon was largely inspired by a homily preached by Rev. Joshua Genig and by Robert Farrar Capon’s “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – Vindication and Outrage in the Parables of Jesus”

About Pastor Hopkins