Give to God What Is God’s
Exodus 33:12-23 Matthew 22:15-22
October 16, 2011

Our lives are so full of obligations, full of things we need to do for work, for family, for ourselves, that often we don’t know where to start. This morning’s scriptures are all about our loyalties, where we owe our attention. In the Gospel, the Pharisees are out to trip up Jesus, but what they end up doing is exposing themselves as the not-so-loyal Jews that they are. When you entered the Temple, you were not supposed to bring with you any Roman coins. They were to be exchanged in the courtyard for Temple coins. Roman coins had a graven image on them, the image of Caesar, and graven images were not allowed in the sacred space of the Temple, even in your pocket. The fact that these coins were still in their possession showed that the Pharisees did not take the laws of the Temple all that seriously. Maybe they thought that they were above the law, because they were special or something. Whatever the reason, when Jesus asked to see a coin, this was the coin they showed him. I wonder if Jesus knew that these men would have the coins of the empire in their pockets rather than Temple coins; or maybe this question of his was an open one? If they came up with a Temple coin, maybe then Jesus’ response to them would have been the same, but with different ramifications. If they offered a Temple coin, he might still have said, “give to God those things that are God’s and to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s.” At that point, however, this would have had a different meaning and outcome to them. In the Temple, they should have had a coin that was meant for offerings; since they didn’t, Jesus was able to make a different point than he might have if the Pharisees really were faithful, religious law-abiding Jews. This is an interesting aside in a story that has captured our imagination for quite some time. I am always fascinated by how Jesus kept one step ahead of the Pharisees and others who would denounce him. And yet he did it by being absolutely faithful to the laws that they all purported to live by.
This morning I want us to think a bit about the fact that Jesus asked first for the coin the men were carrying. This would tell him where their true loyalties lay. He did not start preaching at them about what they should or should not do regarding taxes, he first asked a question, and their answer let him know where they stood. While reading this passage, another scripture has been rolling around in my mind, it is a piece from Genesis that claims we were created in the image of God. Hmm, if we are created in the image of God, then according to what Jesus is saying here about giving to God what is God’s, then we belong to God. This is the root of something very big, something that has the potential of affecting us in all aspects of our lives, if we let it. Here is the key; we have to make the choice to give to God those things which are God’s. God is not going to rush in and take them from us. God is not even going to come in and take us if we don’t want to be taken. This notion relates a bit to the Pharisees and the type of coins they carried in their pockets, even on the hallowed grounds of the Temple; when we think of ourselves, do we give any attention to the possibility that we have been created in the image of God? Does this mean anything to us? Do we live differently because of it?
One of the challenges when traveling is figuring out the monetary system of a new place. There are several aspects to this. First you need to translate Euros or British Sterling into US Dollars and figure out if the price asked is reasonable. Second, you need to find the proper coins or bills in your pocket. I am always struck by how much I rely on the size and shape of a coin to determine its value, and how difficult it is to count out change when I have to scrutinize each and every coin before handing it over to the, often bemused, cashier. So for us, in this situation of having been created in God’s image and yet also being so much a part of this world in which we live, we need to figure out what currency we plan to make use of as we portion out our days. Are we living as God’s image bearers, or as the image carriers of this culture? Which origins, which of our roots, are reflected most clearly in the choices that we make and in our actions? But, do we even think like this? When we look in the mirror, either the literal bathroom mirror, or the mirror of how we live our lives, what lineage shows the most? When people describe us, which aspects of who we are and how we make our way in the world are most obvious? Those that relate to God, or to the culture of which we find ourselves a part?
In the Exodus reading, Moses is talking with God, asking for more clarity about who God is and how God wants Moses and the people to live. This will help them all to live in better accord with God and with one another as they travel some more and then, eventually as they build their new community. “Show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight,” says Moses. Moses wants to get to know God better, just as we might want to get to know someone better after having spent a little time with them. Think of a new friendship. There comes a time in a new friendship when you have a good deep conversation about values and priorities, revealing more about yourself and discovering who your new friend is at a deeper level as well. Friendships grow stronger as we share more about who we are with one another. Moses’ relationship with Yahweh is no different. The people of Israel have been traveling for a long time, following God’s guidance, and yet there is much that they and Moses do not know, do not understand about Yahweh and his demands on their lives. Moses wants to be a better follower of God. He wants to help the people follow better as well. He asks God to go with him and help him lead the people when they move on from the encampment they have made, so that they would have God’s presence and guidance with them wherever they go. Yahweh agrees and mentions that this will allow Moses to get some rest as well. A very sweet sentiment, and much appreciated by anyone who has been in a leadership position for any length of time. For himself, Moses also asks to be shown God’s glory. It is an interesting and rather curious request, one that is met halfway in the offering to let Moses see God’s back, but not God’s face. The full force of Yahweh’s glory would be too much for any mortal, Moses included, and yet God seems to understand Moses’ need to see something that he can be reassured by. Maybe he is looking for a resemblance, to see if he really belongs to this God he has been listening to and following so far?
This morning’s readings stir us to think about our relationship with God and how this is expressed in the way we live. We, like the people of Jesus’ time, have loyalties that pull us in different directions. The world draws us out of ourselves in ways that build the society. There is much of what we do out in the world that is good, that serves the greater good and that enables us to live our lives well, so we need to do this. We need to pay attention to the part of ourselves that bears the image of the human society of which we are a part. We also need to remember that we were created in the image of God. Like Moses, we long to know God better, deeper, more truly. This calling to know God pulls us out of the world and deeper into who we truly are. As bearers of the image of God, there is something inside of us that longs to give of ourselves in ways that feed the holy, in ways that bring blessing to those around us. Sometimes we can do both, draw from both aspects of our ancestry, but other times we have to choose. The important thing is to recognize when we are being asked to choose so that we can choose wisely, with our eyes, our heart and our mind open, knowing what we are doing.
Jesus, you taught the people many things during your time on earth. Help us to learn this lesson about where to give our resources, where to spend our time and where to devote our energy. Each morning as we face the day ahead, give us the wisdom to make good choices about where and how our gifts are needed, and then help us to move forward in the faith that we are living up to all of who we are. Help us to always give to God the things that are God’s, no matter how loud and demanding the rest of our lives might be. Amen.