Date: Pentecost XX Proper 24 + 10/22/17
Text: Matthew 22:15-22
We are nearing the end of Matthew’s Gospel and therefore the end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. In a matter of only a couple more days Jesus will stand condemned by “the church” before the governor of state, Pontius Pilate. When Jesus would not answer him Pilate threatened Him asking, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” It was then that Jesus answered him, saying, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11). Far from any consideration of a so-called separation of church and state Jesus here deepened the truth we heard Him speak to the Pharisees and Herodians just days before of rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. What things after all are Caesar’s and what things are God’s? We won’t understand the distinction between the two until we understand that, ultimately, there is no such distinction, but God is above all, Creator of all, Possessor of all. All things belong to God. Christ is King of heaven and also King of the universe.
It is true as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13 that we all are called to be subject or obedient to the governing authorities. “For there is no authority” he says “except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God.” And then he adds, “Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom 13:1-2). Judgment by or from whom? The judgment of the DOJ, the national Department of Justice? Maybe. But it is the judgment of God who is ultimately behind all earthly authority. Our Lord’s final words at His Ascension were, “All authority,” not only in the Church, not only religious authority but, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt. 28:18).
Even through the mystery of His being condemned by both church and state, rejected by the world of unbelief, by His resurrection from the dead He has proved to be King over all, over all nations and even over death itself. That’s because His holy death was that price beyond our ability to pay, the wages of sin. By His death He showed Himself to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There is no earthly power or authority that can claim that victory.
Now Caesar had claim to that which bore his image like the coins of the denarius. But not everything was made in Caesar’s image. Rather all people were and are to this day created in God’s own image, “in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Therefore God’s claim over all creation reigns over and through all other authorities. Yet how many nations, kings, rulers, emperors or tyrants still express claim even over God?
Ages before he even came on the scene the prophet Isaiah prophesied that a man named Cyrus would become king of Persia. And even though Cyrus would not know the God of Israel much less believe in Him still the Lord chose Him to accomplish His good purposes. God even calls Him “my anointed,” the same royal term that would be applied to Jesus, the ultimate Anointed One who would accomplish God’s will of bringing life and salvation to light for all people in this dark world.
It seems that all earthly governments, good or bad, Cyrus, Pilate, Charles the Fifth, Adolf Hitler, or Margaret Thatcher, the kings and queens of the nations are such reluctant rulers through whom God, nevertheless, guides and directs according to His will. This even applies to our own country even though the United States of America has a different view than almost any other nation on earth. For whereas it is the nature of all men to reject God’s claim of authority, the founding documents of our nation claim as self-evident that we are the creation of God and that all, even the nation itself, is under God’s authority, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness being God’s good unalienable gifts to all. Instead of limiting God to His own minor realm of authority, the Constitution of the United States amazingly limits the government under God’s rule and authority. Though our currency bears the images of many of our past presidents it is not a claim of ownership but only of honor under God. Yes they were all sinners, just like you and me. They were all sinners even though we honor their achievements in history books and statues.
Of course, for all our uniqueness among the nations of the world, our government, like all others, is still ruled and run by sinners. Nevertheless, “For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom 13:6-7). ‘Sounds like that covers both the IRS and the statues erected to the honor of our past leaders. The only protection against tyranny in our country is that we the people still have an albeit tentative say through our elected representatives.
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But remember all things, even Caesar or Cyrus, belong to God. Above all, thanks be to God that our Lord’s supreme, saving sacrifice was accomplished even under the direction of Pontius Pilate as we proclaim always and everywhere in the world in the words of the creed. Through Christ, through the tragedy of His innocent suffering and death, God’s triumphant purpose of bringing the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins was accomplished once for all, for everyone and forever.