Monday, November 13, 2017

Giving Ourselves to God

Giving Ourselves to God (Matthew 22:15-22)

In our Gospel reading today, we find Jesus being set up for treason by the religious crew with the bad rap, the Pharisees (22:15).  After establishing the sincerity, orthodoxy, and impartiality of our Lord and Savior, the Pharisees asked Jesus a deceptively simple question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes, or not?” (22:16-17).  On the surface this is a simple question about money.  The Emperor demanded money from the Jews in the form of taxes, and of course the Jews would rather keep their money in their own pockets.

Now, if you were to ask Benjamin Franklin this same question about money, we know what his answer would be from one of his most famous quotes, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”  But Jesus Christ, much wiser than Benjamin Franklin, explains in no uncertain terms that our greatest obligation has nothing to do with money.  In fact, it’s not about money at all.  For those of us who think that we can give our way into the kingdom of heaven, for those of us who think that we can give our way into God’s favor, for those of us who think that we can give our way into real relationships with real people in real need, Jesus says to us the same thing that he said to the Pharisees, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites” (22:18).  Verse 18 says Jesus was aware of their malice and Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  So, when it comes to our giving today, Jesus is aware of our malice, Jesus is aware of our hypocrisy, Jesus is aware of our pride.  Jesus is aware that it’s not about money.

Now, if anyone had an actual God-given right to a title of royalty, it was Jesus Christ.  In our reading of Paul’s epistle, we heard in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 that Jesus Christ was sent from heaven to rescue us from the wrath that is coming.  In the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus was God, wrapped in flesh, given for us and for our salvation.  But instead of demanding the respect he certainly deserved, back in Matthew 22:19, Jesus simply asked “Show me the coin used for the tax.”  In other words, Jesus was saying, “Show me the money!”

Now, it’s easy for anyone to get up in front of a crowd and spout off how we should give ourselves to God.  But Jesus didn’t just talk about it, Jesus practiced what he preached.  You see, Jesus’ teaching about giving the government what belongs to the government and giving to God what belongs to God could still be misconstrued as a lesson about taxes or financial giving.  So, to clarify exactly what Jesus meant when we are told to give to God what belongs to God, the translators of Matthew’s gospel use a very specific Greek word in verse 20: “Whose head is this, and whose title?”  Loosely translated, that phrase “head” in the Greek is icon or image.  The New International Version of Matthew 22:20 asks the question this way, “Whose image is this?”  Whose image is this dollar bill made in?  It’s made in the image of a man!  But whose image are you made in?  More importantly, and this is what we long-time Christians fail to remember, whose image was Christ made in?  Whose image was Christ made in?

The King James Version of Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus was “the brightness of [God’s] glory, and the express image of [God’s] person.”  Jesus was the icon of God, Jesus was the likeness of God, and Jesus was the exact imprint, the express image of God.  But what did Jesus do with that image?  Did Jesus lift up that image to be worshiped and adored?  No, instead that image was lifted up to be crucified on an old rugged cross because of the sins of the world.  That image was scarred beyond recognition because of our savagery and cruelty.  But ultimately, Jesus took that image and gave it back to God.  Luke 23:46 says this: “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”  From the moment of his birth to his final breath, Jesus gave to God what belonged to God.  What about us?

Now, don’t get me wrong, Christ is pleased when we pay our taxes, and give out of our finances to the work of the Church and the thousands of other charitable organizations that serve the least of these.  But as I close, allow me to share my journey of faith with you for just a moment.  Currently, I am a postulant considering religious life within the Anglican Order of Preachers, a Dominican community within the Episcopal Church with Roman Catholic roots stretching back over 800 years of preaching for the salvation of souls.  In one of our assigned readings, there was a fantastic quote given in response to why a particular Dominican preacher was so effective in reaching unchurched people.  His name was Jordan of Saxony and he said, “when they are offered the words of Christ or his disciples in a Sunday sermon or on a feast day, they fall victim at once to the intoxication of the Holy Spirit’s wine, and hand over to God not only their goods but themselves” (Murray, p. 137, emphasis added).  As we partake of Christ’s Body and Blood today and as we live as Christ’s Body every day, let us give ourselves to God.


Murray, P.  (2006).  The new wine of Dominican spirituality: A drink called happiness.  New York, NY: Burns and Oates, 137.

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