What are two things in life we can’t avoid? Taxes and death? No! Change and death. How many changes have you experienced in your life? Could it match the changes the Jewish people have experienced? The Old Testament tells us of the many changes in the life of the Jewish people. Among them were their lives as slaves in Egypt, their 40 years wandering in the desert and their exile in Babylon.
In today’s reading from Isaiah we hear about the beginning of the end of the exile in Babylon when King Cyrus was instrumental in having them return to Israel. I can just imagine what their thoughts were when the Babylonians were defeated and Cyrus, a pagan, became king. Usually we think of a pagan as a person who has no religion but that wasn’t true for Cyrus. In contrast to the Jewish and our Christian religion Cyrus believed in a dualistic god. There was a god of light responsible for the good and a god of darkness responsible for evil. Cyrus was a benevolent king and he was a messiah. But you and I say we only have one Messiah, Jesus, but strictly speaking Jesus was one of many. When we look at the definition of a messiah as: God’s anointed one who fulfills every wish of God, we see that Moses would be the Jewish messiah and Cyrus the Pagan messiah and Jesus the Christian messiah.
As we can see from Scripture being a messiah is no easy task. The most detailed description of a Messiah is the description of Jesus, our Christian Messiah in the New Testament.
In today’s Gospel the Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus in speech like the media currently tries to entrap governmental leaders in their speech. To have them seen as unacceptable to the people they are serving or potentially violating a custom or law. Just as today the usual first step is to butter a person up with compliments and we see that is just what the Pharisees did to Jesus by saying: “Teacher, we know that you a truthful man and that you teach the way to God in accordance with the truth.” I’m sure Jesus did what you and I would do when that is the introduction, we go on guard expecting a bombshell or criticism to follow. The Pharisees did just that by asking the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
They thought they had a great question because if Jesus answered with a simple yes or no they had him. If Jesus answered no saying the tax was unlawful they would report him to the Roman government for prosecution. If Jesus answered yes, that it was lawful he would be discredited in the eyes of his followers, the people who were against paying to a pagan emperor. Jesus wasn’t about to deviate from what he had been teaching. He was unwilling to change and his answer was kind of a yes, but, when he said “Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God.” His message was that we have a dual citizenship, country by birth and citizenship in heaven as a gift from God. Just as we are and they were required to pay taxes for the services and protection, we and they have an obligation to God for all that God provides. What does God provide you and me? God provides us with everything, our life (our time), our capabilities (our talents) and our possessions (our treasures). On that basis it might seem logical that we owe God everything, but according to God’s Word in the Old Testament, God is satisfied with 10% and that has never changed. Wouldn’t it be nice if our government would be satisfied with a fixed percentage and never changed.