18th October 2020, Revd Tim Calow, 19th Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22: 15-22

18th October 2020, Revd Tim Calow, 19th Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22: 15-22, Isaiah 45: 1-7

GIVE TO THE EMPEROR, GIVE TO GOD

Matthew 22:15-22 & Isaiah 45:1-7

Revd. Tim Calow

I’m fed up with our government, angry even. It goes back to the election with their manifesto promise of leaving the European Union. I thought that their promise was based on exaggerations and untruths (were they lying? – maybe – but if not they were showing a reckless disregard for telling truths). I have the strong feeling that they were elected because the alternative was even worse, even less credible.

 I’m not even convinced that Boris Johnson really believed that we should leave the EU. He wavered until the last minute before joining the ‘Vote Leave’ camp in the run up to the referendum. I’m convinced that the principal reason he decided was that it gave him an opportunity to further his own career. The only principle that seems to govern his actions is his frequently declared desire ‘to have his cake and eat it’. 

He then chose a cabinet lacking experience and based solely on their ideological purity. It is this that has sowed the seeds for the government’s inability to manage the Covid crisis. Compare the problems that we have compared with Germany where different views are tested in vigorous debate before a consensus is reached – where the power of national government is balanced by the powers delegated to the regions.

I could go on (and am very tempted) So why are we paying taxes to this Westminster based government – with our hard-earned notes. It’s almost like paying them to a foreign country!

But look at the picture on the note. Prominently displayed is a portrait of our Queen, our monarch and representative of our nation state. Jesus words (from our reading) come back to me – “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are due to the emperor”.

Jesus was living in contentious times too. He was born to a country longing for freedom from foreign oppressors. They had been dominated by foreign powers for many generations – the latest of which was the Roman Empire. Many were longing for a Messiah who would raise an army to defeat the foreigners in battle. This probably included Simon the Zealot who was one of Jesus disciples.

The Romans did delegate significant powers to the different provinces that made up their empire – but this was never enough to satisfy many Israelites. There were constant tensions.

In our reading the pharisees think that they can catch Jesus out. Note the flattery of the introduction to the question “Teacher, we know that you are sincere and teach the way of God in accordance with truth”. But the killer unanswerable question “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

They didn’t see his answer coming. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s”

This reading has been used to justify a distinction between political, secular affairs and spiritual matters. I don’t think that this is justified.

This splitting of secular and sacred is not a distinction that the people of Jesus time would have recognised. There was not how Jesus listeners would have understood his words and is not (I suggest) what Jesus would want us to understand. It is bringing a modern and European notion of faith and politics, to Jesus’ context.

Beyond that, our faith is in Jesus as the incarnation of God. This suggests to me a God who immerses themselves in the created world in all its confused messiness. This Jesus went about healing people of their physical infirmities – rather than suggesting that they should not fret about their physical problems and focus on their beautiful spiritual lives. This is Jesus who reserved his harshest criticism to those who set themselves to live beautiful spiritual lives and condemned others who were struggling.

I would suggest to you that we have a Jesus who balanced his priorities in a world of conflicting demands. His sympathy is towards those who are engaging and struggling with the conflicting demands of living a good life. And for us?

We are to engage fully with the world around us. That means for us that we are to engage in politics. For we do have ways of making our views known – ways that were not open in Jesus times. We have duties both to pay our taxes and to try to influence how our money is spent.

There are particular challenges as to how we engage. These our angry times in which personal insults are rife. We have to try and find ways of engaging in real dialogue.

We are also to be engaged with our families, in supporting them.                                             

We are to be engaged with supporting the vulnerable in our local communities.              

We should also support the work of charities at work across the world.

Underlying all these activities however should be our faith as the bedrock of our lives. We are to be clear about this faith with all whom we meet as we live our daily lives.

Really there is no realistic choice. Politically – humanly – I struggle to see good ways to move forward (what can an old man, like me, do?). I suspect that you struggle to. However – against ‘common sense’ we continue to believe in the ways of God. This can give us the strength not to despair – a strength to imagine a better future – and to ask “Why not?”   

Amen