Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whose stamp is on you?

   Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
    But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?
    “Caesar’s,” they replied.
   Then he said to them, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. (Matthew 22:15-21)
Is this conversation really about paying taxes? Or something much more profound? Well...

A few weeks ago, I was in Tuscaloosa for an Alabama home game. As is often my habit, I attended Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday morning before heading home. On this particular Sunday, they had a guest speaker by the name of Dan Arsenault. Dan is a former atheist who has devoted his life to sharing the case for rational belief in God as revealed through Christ. This particular Sunday, he talked about the above conversation in a way I had never thought about it. I'll be interested to hear whether you have. Here goes:

Walking through the passage, first we see that the question being asked by the Pharisees wasn't sincere. There were simply trying to trap him because he was stirring up so much trouble for them. (Authentic faith always makes religiosity uncomfortable...but that is a subject for another blog post.) So they buttered him up with a lot of insincere praise ("We know that you are a man of integrity, blah, blah, blah..."). And then they put him on the spot by asking him, "Is it right to pay taxes?"

And then Jesus answers their question with a question. But, and this is the cool part, he doesn't ask an even more important question...but the second question is implied and means everything.

The question he asks is whose image is stamped on the coin. Easy. Obvious. It's Caesar, the sovereign ruler  of the Roman Empire. So Jesus gives them the rather simple answer that since the ruler's image is on the money, the money belongs to him. The property belongs to whoever's image is stamped thereon. And then...and then...

And then he goes beyond the answer to that question, answering another one at the same time. He says, give it to Caesar; his image is on it so it belongs to him. But he doesn't stop there. He says to give God what belongs to God. What? Who said anything about something being stamped with God's image??

They all knew - God did. In Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his own image,
   in the image of God he created him;
   male and female he created them.
Caesar's image is on the coin, and God's image is on us. So Jesus was saying to give the government what belongs to it and to give God what belongs to him. What? Ourselves.

God's stamp is all over us. It shows in the yearning for meaning in life. It shows in our self-awareness that does not exist in the animal kingdom. And it shows in our awareness that there is a right and wrong.

I had never looked at that passage this way before, but it is so obvious to me now. So what will I do with it? I think it can be summed up in the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts (who also wrote the Christmas classic Joy to the World):
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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