Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)
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.
ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
1. What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text? What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the ulterior motives with which the Pharisees send their disciples and the Herodians, to “entrap him in what he said.” They have already made up their minds before the encounter even begins, and, instead of being interested in dialogue, they only want to trick Jesus. We are used to seeing the Pharisees as the bad guys in this Gospel, but last week I preached that we, as life-long, established Christians might be the closest thing to Pharisees that still exist today. And if we are, indeed, Pharisees, where does the beginning of this story leave us? I can certainly think of times when I have gone to God in prayer with the express purpose of wiggling out of the law of love, or the hard, uncomfortable work to which I am sometimes being called. When have your prayers included ulterior motives? How can we approach God with open hearts, ready to listen to what God has to say?
2. What delights or comforts me in this text? What is my favorite part, and why? I love that Jesus’ final answer turns the entire world upside-down. He says to, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At first, this might sound like Jesus is falling into the Pharisee’s trap. Pay taxes? Participate in a system of oppression that is becoming very precarious for the Jewish people in Jesus’ time? It can sound like giving the best to the worst, and giving what is leftover to God. However, I am reminded of the meaning of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (give us this day our daily bread) in Luther’s Small Catechism:
What then does “daily bread” mean?
Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, field, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. ( Luther’s Small Catechism, pg. 23)
Everything belongs to God! And, everything that we have, relationships included, is given to us by God’s gracious favor. So when we give to God the things that are God’s, we recognize that it all belongs to God in the first place, and give back from a sense of thankfulness, blessedness, and joy. And we participate in civil society, and vote, and serve on boards, and make sure that the last, the least, and the forgotten in our communities are cared for, because God loves us first. What are you thankful for today? In what ways do you consider yourself blessed? What is bringing you joy?
3. What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? How does this story intersect with my life? The closest thing that I can come to of understanding all the ways in which God cares for me that I don’t even recognize on a daily basis was the time of life when I was in high school and college. I was beginning to be more independent, I was earning my own money, I began to live away from my parent’s house for the first time. I had so much that I was providing for myself with the work that I myself had done, that I think I forgot just how much my family supported me through that time. I bought the car, but they paid the insurance. I lived on my own, but their work paid my rent. I could go to school, and to the doctor when I needed it, and my parents made that possible.
As adults, we work. We pay our way. We nurture our relationships. We participate in our communities. And we sometimes forget that the source of all of it is God, and God alone. Stories like the one in Matthew help us to reorient ourselves to see the world, at least in small glimpses, from God’s point of view. When, in your life, were you able to make it because of the help and support of others? When, in your life, have you leaned hard on God?
4. What is God up to in this text? What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message? As I reflected on my experience as a young adult, I was also reminded that not everyone is as loved and supported by their family as I have been. We are not able to have a Mission Festival this year due to the pandemic, and I was remembering that Oaks Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma, is a serving arm of our Nebraska Synod. Oaks Indian Mission is “called to care for abused, neglected or abandoned Indian children, guiding them on a path that will allow them to live fulfilled, successful lives.” They are the Christian community of care which surrounds young people during the most difficult chapters in their lives, and commit to giving them love, safety, food, clothing, education, and a fresh start. One of the ways that we can be Christ’s hands and feet in this world is to participate in the work of providing daily bread for those who cannot access it, and I urge you to learn more about this important mission. Learn more here: https://www.oaksindianmission.org/our-calling
I pray that you are able to count God’s blessings in your life, each and everyday. And I pray that you might always have enough (and some to share!).
In Christ, Pastor Breen