“Jesus says to give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to give unto God what belongs to God”. The Pharisees sent their disciples to trick Jesus with a question about whether all people were to pay taxes to Caesar, and whether there should be any exceptions. Jesus recognizing their malice, called them hypocrites and asked to see the coin that was used for paying the tax. They showed him the coin, and he asked them: “Whose head is this on the coin, and what is his title”? They answered: “The emperor” (Caesar Augustus). Jesus then replied: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are God’s”. The disciples of the Pharisees were amazed at this response, and they went away. (Matthew 22:15-22) Jesus leaves their question unanswered, at least not the way they expected.
Here’s the questions that the followers of Jesus faced: “Why should we pay taxes to Caesar? The family of Caesar is considered deity. Caesar Augustus claims to be the Anointed One, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. So, the question remains, who is Caesar and who is God? In His response, Jesus differentiates between God and Caesar, but in the Roman Empire Caesar Augustus was considered by the Roman Parliament to be the “God Incarnate of the world”. So, now how do we interpret how Jesus answered this question? He did not consider Caesar Augustus God. He did not answer the question outright, but he did put the question into proper perspective. He would follow His father, the true God, and not Caesar.
Jesus, are you the Messiah? What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? Perhaps Jesus is saying: Pay your taxes, but realize that everything you have belongs to God. In Romans Paul encourages us to give ourselves over to God as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1) As good stewards of God we acknowledge that all things we have, our resources, gifts and talents, and the way we conduct ourselves with our purses that will never wear out, is a testimony that we serve only one God, the true and Living God. (Luke 12:23)
Some of us are blessed with more resources than others. We are the rich and the poor, and all those in between, but we all pay taxes. Well…most of us do. Some of the wealthiest people in the world get away with not paying taxes or very little taxes because of tax loop-holes. So, brothers and sisters, the question is for you this morning. “What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God”? Here’s my opinion on the matter. And, like the Apostle Paul would often say: “Here is my opinion on the matter, and my opinion is usually right, and if you think about it some more I’m sure you will come to see it my way”. As a steward all my resources belong to God, but the taxes registered to me, I need to pay or suffer the consequences.
I have heard of people that thought it was their God-given duty to not pay taxes. That’s fine, but if you want to continue that fight it will eventually lead to prison, and I guess there’s always room for more prison ministry. If you’re going to fight battles in the trenches, be careful of the battles you choose to fight. If it’s something you can change, change it. If it is something unholy that you do not know whether you can change it or not, but you feel it is your calling to work for change, work for change. Because, not all laws are right or just.
For example, the 4th and 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and it has been upheld in court repeatedly, that homeless people have the right to be homeless. The Constitution of the United States protects all American’s. It is not against the law to be a US Citizen. If it is then we all need to be written citations, and it is not against the law to be homeless. It is not against the law to be a person. Every day in the city of El Cajon, citations are given to people who sleep in public places, such as parks, driveways, alleys, cars, etc.… I’m not talking about private properties or homes. I’m talking about city owned public places, like parks and parking lots and city sidewalks.
People are ticketed for loitering in the park. The courts have held up the 4th and 8th Amendment, and have ruled repeatedly that you cannot be ticked for sleeping, eating, or loitering in public if there is no shelter available for you, and if the shelter does not violate your privacy. Besides the legal thing, what is our ethical requirements from Scripture. We are told to feed the hungry, to care for the marginalized, to help those that for various reasons are unable to help themselves or speak out for themselves. (Matthew 25)
There are new street signs recently posted on the streets of El Cajon that tell people not to give money to the homeless, and an encouragement to send money instead to a homeless organization that has long term housing plans for the homeless, but does not supply temporary housing, not even for one night. I did buy a cup of coffee for a homeless man this morning at 7/11, and I do give out food from time to time. As a rule, I usually don’t give out money on the streets. But, that does not mean I will send money to an organization that does not meet the needs of the homeless people that I am working with. I may, or I may put my money elsewhere. I’m sure they are doing a good thing, but it is not affecting any of the people we work with at Welcome Church.
“Give unto Caesar what is Caesars, and give unto God what is Gods”. A refugee came to me for assistance. His wife and the wife of his landlord got into a squabble. So, the next day the landlord issued him a letter of eviction. I asked him if he had paid his rent, and he said he had. I asked if he was violating the terms of his contract in anyway. He assured me that he had not. I sent him to an organization that provided a lawyer, and the lawyer intervened. The eviction papers were withdrawn, and the refugee family kept their apartment. Sometimes providing advocacy for those in need is easier than other times. In that case the city confirmed the rights of the resident in opposition to the unlawful action of the landlord.
We are called to speak up for the marginalized, the homeless and for those that are wrongly violated, bullied and persecuted. Our obligations as Christians is to speak up for justice, for equality, for those things that sometimes we take for granted because we don’t have to live in that environment. We do not have to live in squalor. There are people in this city that are living in squalor, places that you think, “how in the world can you rent a place like that, and how can a place like that get that kind of money for junk”? People take advantage of those who will not fight back because for obvious reasons they cannot rent a nicer place because of credit or back history of problems that would restrict them from a nicer place, but we have found that they are still paying the same kind of money for a place to call home, even if the landlord is a slumlord. It’s because it is allowed. Even though I’m sure there are laws in the books, they are obviously not always enforced.
Stand up for justice. Be merciful. Be humble, and be careful about how you work for change. We are not called to be vigilantes, because the people that are civil servants, are people just like you and me. Sometimes, they are working for change too, and sometimes you can assist others in pushing those changes forward. I think that is where we are at in East County right now. It is an opportune time for us as a church, and many people in the county are ready to work for change. The opportunity is knocking at our door. The opportune time is now.
A few days ago in our daily office readings we came on the famous passage in the book of Micah:
Will you know what is good for you, and what does the Lord require of people. To do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God. (Micah 6:8)
We are involved in our Yearly Stewardship drive at St. Alban’s, purring our budget together for 2021. So whoever you are, and wherever you call your church home, remember these words:
“Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give unto God what belongs to God”.