Daily Devotion – October 14, 2020 – Dr. Pat Taylor Ellison

Matthew 22:15-22
22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
22:16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach  the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.
22:17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
22:18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?
22:19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
22:20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
22:21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

As I understand it, Pharisees were dedicated to the strict interpretation of Jewish law. Any believer who agreed with that desire was called a Pharisee, whether he was a leader-type or simply a worshipping Jew. Their “party” believed that duty to God could be performed in both big and small ways, and they were always seeking to do all the right things and not do any of the wrong things.

They really did not like Jesus (nor had they liked John the Baptist) because Pharisees wanted a strict code to obey rather than a set of relationships that might need you to break a commandment or two in order to save someone’s life or help or heal someone.

So in their usual fashion, they were looking for ways to trip Jesus up so that it would be as obvious to everyone else as it was to them that Jesus was not worth following since he couldn’t be depended upon to defend each and every law on the books. Jesus said he had come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Instead of giving the Pharisees some relief (Jesus wasn’t abolishing the thing they loved), it made them hate him (Jesus was what the law had been designed to foretell, and once Jesus appeared, there was no need for it anymore) even more.

So they came up with a trick question about paying taxes. Jesus used a coin in reply, as we know. The passage says that at this answer they were amazed. Not amazed the way we would say today, “Wow! That was amazing!” about an excellent performance or a thrilling theme park ride. More like “Huh? What? Where did that magician disappear to?” They were stunned, and they were left wondering about that thing Jesus had said. Jesus knew that he could never out-trick the law folks. But he could make them think for two minutes about what we render to whom and why. Not only “pay taxes to the Emperor using coins of the Empire” but also “pay to the Lord God the things of the Kingdom of God.”

Let us be stunned, too, for two minutes and consider what things we ought to be rendering to God.                                          

Gracious God, Thank you for loving us. Thank you for giving us everything we need in this life. Help us to remember that our lives belong to you, and that we ought to render to you the fruits of your Kingdom: loving acts for you and loving acts for our neighbor and the stranger among us.Amen.