Friday 1 April 2022
So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, ‘Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?’ They said, ‘The emperor’s.’ He said to them, ‘Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a Mary Beard historical documentary about the Romans but I was watching one recently where she happened to talk about Roman currency. According to the documentary the first Roman coins to have the head of a significant leader stamped on them was Julius Caesar and subsequent emperors adopted the practice themselves. Mary Beard commented that the Romans became obsessed with deifying their emperors and to have the head of the emperor stamped on coins wasn’t just simply to show where authority lay in the Empire in terms of trade and commerce, but also was an attempt to show that the emperor as a ‘god’ was watching everything that you said, did or purchased. The Roman emperor as a ‘god’ was literally in your pocket. No doubt we will have heard sermons or reflections on this encounter Jesus has in his life with people out to entrap him about where authority and true worship lie. And we will have probably heard it said that ‘giving to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ actually means giving everything to God, because the emperor and his coinage is as much a part of the created order as anything or anyone else. The emperor has no more authority and is no more a ‘god’ than anyone else. There is only one true living God so how can you give something to the Roman emperor that is ultimately God’s anyway? The trouble is that we all fall into the trap of worshipping created things rather than offering heartfelt worship to God. We only have to think about the things we place value in – money, technology, fashion accessories – to realise that all too often we place greater value on these things than our love and relationship with God. In so doing we end up carrying our pocket sized ‘caesars’ around with us. The challenge of this reading is for us to worship the creator rather than the created things and to live each day of our lives in awe and wonder at all that God has done, is doing and will do in us and through us.
help us to offer you heartfelt worship,
and to live our lives in awe and wonder,
at all you are doing in our lives.
Help us to see that everything we have
comes from you,
and the gifts and blessings we receive from you,
reflect your goodness and abundance to us.
May we live our lives in the knowledge of your great love for us,
and help us to share that love with those we meet.
In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.