Dé Máirt, Aibreán 11, 2006

The Coin...

"'Show me a denarious. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?'
'Caesar's,' they replied.
He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'
Luke 20: 24, 25

I remember explicitly the first time I heard this piece of scripture. I was being taught a lesson on finances, taxes, and tithing by my mom. She was making me give up some of my allowance for tithe for the first time, and I really didn't appreciate the effort. I stood there after my mom asked me to do this and explain why we do it, telling me that the Bible says we should give 10 percent back to God. Since I was maybe nine or ten at the time, if the Bible said it it was ok with me, even if I didn't quite understand why God wanted or needed my money. Maybe He needed some new underwear, I wasn't really sure. What I did know is that the government had no real need for my money. I told my mom this, and she smiled and calmly opened her Bible to this passage and explained it to me saying that we pay taxes because that's what Jesus said to do. The money obviously came from the government in the first place, so if they wanted it so badly they could have it back.

Maybe you have the same kind of experience with this passage, maybe not, but I think we all somewhere along the line ended up with the same conclusion. "Pay your taxes, cause Jesus said so." We can even support it with what Paul tells us to do in Romans 13:1 and the writer of Hebrews 13:17. It's fairly conclusive that Jesus told us to pay our taxes...Or I thought so until this Sunday.

This past Sunday the President of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, Ohio gave the message. He spoke of the Triuphal Entry, of people praising Christ as he humbly rides in of a donkey, He quickly pointed that the crowd that would shout for his death in just a few days was not the same crowd that welcomed him to Jerusalem. "Those, he said, would still be in bed in those early morning hours after they had enjoyed the Passover meal. The crowd condemning Christ was most likely temple guards and people loyal to the ruling powers." WE then moved to our main passage. He said many of the same things that I've just said but then turned and said that this wasn't Christ's point at all.

The pharisees have been backed into a wall here by Jesus and they are searching for any reason to get rid of him. He's just told the parable of the Tenants (Lk 20:9-19). The People are appalled that the obvious subject of the parable, the Pharisees, would be reviled by God and their authority taken away. Yet Jesus reminds then that the Psalmist prophesied "the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone." (118:22) The teachers of the law and the chief priests are furious but know that to arrest Jesus out right would insight a riot so they attempt to trap him with a political question. They ask him whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman government. Jesus realizing what is going on asks them for a denarius. The question you should be asking at this point is why didn't he just take one his own out of his pockets? The answer is simple...He didn't have one. Exodus 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself and idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." It was unlawful for Jesus to have in his possession something with someone else's image on it. The fact that he asks for one, and receives one from some one associated with the temple let alone a teacher of the law or a high priest is down right scandalous.

The Denarius has on one side of it a picture of the Roman emperor, Tiberious in this case, which would be bad enough, but Mr. Pryor revealed to us that on the opposite side would have been an inscription, "Tiberious Caesar son of the DEVINE Augustus." Not only is this coin a symbol of roman oppression to the Jewish people it is an artifact of Roman religion. In essence an idol, forbidden by Jewish law, and it was in the possession of the temple.

When Christ asks whose picture is on the coin he very subtly references the creation account where God says, "let Us make man in Our own image." This is why the passage is so important. Christ quickly places ownership on two things in this picture, the coin and man. He tell them that if the coin is created in Caerar's, who thinks himself divine, image then give it back to Caesar, but you are created in MY image. We are to give back to God what is God's by right of creation, ourselves. The taxes are not important, give them what they gave to you in the first place. What is important is what you've done with your heart, your mind, your soul. By having the coin in their possession they are breaking the same laws they are supposed to teach and uphold in others, where is their mind, where is their heart, their soul?

We so often attempt to live our lives like the Pharisees where trying to live theirs, pious to the people who matter. On Sunday we raise our palm branches and cry "Hosanna in the highest! Blessed be your Name!," but as the week moves on we turn and say "Hail Caesar!" by what we have in our pockets. Christ told us that we cannot serve to masters, that eventually we would learn to love the one and despise the other. The coin seems like such a simple thing, but it held so much significance in the long run. This wasn't a social commentary on the good or ill of taxes, it was a revelation of moral truth to those who thought they had it all together. These men where so sure that they were doing the right thing, that Jesus was just trying to insight the people against them, that they missed the truth of his message. Love came to earth to save them, but all they could see was the power slipping out of there hands.

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