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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Start:Stop - Pay God what belongs to God

Bible reading

Their next step was to send to Him some of the Pharisees and of Herod's partisans to entrap Him in conversation. So they came to Him. "Rabbi," they said … Is it allowable to pay poll-tax to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we refuse to pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, replied, "Why try to ensnare me? Bring me a shilling for me to look at." They brought one; and He asked them, "Whose is this likeness and this inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. "What is Caesar's," replied Jesus, "pay to Caesar—and what is God's, pay to God." And they wondered exceedingly at Him. (Mark 12. 13 – 17)


In this story Jesus is asked whether it is against the Law of Moses to pay taxes to the Romans. Before he answers, he asks his questioners to bring him one of the coins used to pay the tax. This coin would have had on it an image of the Emperor Tiberius and a superscription which would have said that Tiberius was the son of the divine Augustus. As all images were prohibited by the Law of Moses and as the superscription proclaimed Tiberius to be a son of a god, these coins were hot property as far as the Jews were concerned. From a strict Jewish perspective the coins themselves were blasphemous and to have one was compromising.

So the trap that had been set for Jesus was a neat one. If he takes the orthodox Jewish position he can be denounced to the Roman authorities as a revolutionary encouraging the Jews not to pay the tax. But if he says that the Jews should pay the tax, then the religious leaders can denounce him as someone who encourages blasphemy. How does he respond? Cleverly, is the answer!

Firstly, he asks for the coin used to pay the tax. This means that those questioning him have to produce the coin. They have to reveal that they have with them, handle and use these blasphemous coins. By this action Jesus makes it much harder for them to then denounce him if he should recommend paying the tax. Then he says, “pay back to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay God what belongs to God,” an amazing answer because it is one statement but can be understood in two ways.

Jesus could have been talking about a difference between loyalty to a state and to God. That a state can make legitimate demands on its citizens like the payment of taxes and that it is right for Christians to meet those obligations. Always recognising that we have a greater and wider commitment to God which encompasses the whole of our lives and not just those parts to which a state can make a claim. On the basis of this understanding his hearers would have understood Jesus to be saying the tax should be paid.

But Jesus’ hearers would also have realised that his words could be understood in another much more revolutionary sense. “Pay back to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor” could mean pay the Romans back for all that they have done in oppressing our people. While, “pay God what belongs to God”, could mean give to God alone the divine honour that has been blasphemously claimed by Caesar. So, Jesus’ words could also be heard as a revolutionary call to arms.

Is that what they were? His hearers couldn’t tell because the phrase he chose to use could be understood either way. They were amazed and, well they might be, because they couldn’t be sure which way his words were to be taken and, therefore, he had eluded their trap. Jesus told his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves and he modelled that here.

Jesus wasn’t trapped in the two camps of revolution or compromise that characterised the politics of his day. He was able to articulate a third way, an alternative kingdom, that countered oppression and that called for justice but which worked for these things through peaceful means. He calls us to do the same. To be people who challenge the oppression and injustices of our day but with the tools of peace and not the weapons of war.

The final part of Jesus’ phrase is the most radical of statements whichever way we interpret what he said. We are to pay God what belongs to God and, if God is the creator of all that we have including our lives, then he is calling us to give everything to God. There is nothing that cannot be given back to God because everything that exists is ultimately a gift to us from God. This is something to remember as we think about Stewardship this autumn. Please read and respond to our Stewardship leaflet because everything we have - our money, our time, our talents - is entrusted to us by God to use wisely. Everything is a gift from God to be given back to him by being used, not for ourselves, but for others.


Loving God, you alone are the source of every good gift. We praise you for all your gifts to us, and we thank you for your generosity. Everything we have, and all that we are, comes from you. Help us to be grateful and responsible. You have called us to follow your son, Jesus, without counting the
cost. Send us your Holy Spirit to give us courage and wisdom to be faithful disciples. Help us to be grateful, accountable, generous, and willing to give back with increase.

We commit ourselves to being good stewards. Help us to make stewardship a way of life.

Lord Jesus, we remember that you constantly found a third way which pharisees, politicians and zealots weren’t expecting. You were surprising, creative, ingenious and shrewd as you lived out the most compassionate and effective leadership the world has ever seen. Lord Jesus in your mercy, we ask you to send your Spirit of wisdom into the corridors of power and the hearts of the powerful; may it move our leaders into a new humility and compassion that truly seeks to serve the people of this nation. Call and equip us to cast vision, shape policies, mould party perspectives, re-enfranchise
young and disadvantaged people, encourage specifically and pray diligently.

We commit ourselves to being good stewards. Help us to make stewardship a way of life.

As God's beloved children may we model a different way of working, bringing glory to God through our good deeds. Encourage us to pray for those in authority over us so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Give us the wisdom and skill to do our work well. Enable us to apply ourselves to our work and learn from others who are wiser and more experienced.

We commit ourselves to being good stewards. Help us to make stewardship a way of life.


"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." And may that blessing of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon you and remain with you always. Amen.


Riyad Nicolas - Scarlatti Sonatas K.466 and K. 455.

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