Proper 24A; Pentecost 20, Matt. 23 October 18, 2020
For all of you out there who own cattle, how would you like to pay an added $100 tax per head on each of your cows? For those who don’t, how many would like to pay the tax on your dog or cat? I’ll get to this in a minute.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees were desperate to get a political argument going with Jesus, trying to find a way to trap and get rid of him. So they tried trapping him with one of our favorite subjects: taxes.
Judah was a part of the Roman New World Order when it was conquered in 63 BC. Rome allowed the Jews a puppet government subservient to the oversight of a Roman governor. Roman citizens paid property taxes. Others, like Judah that were called protectionaries were taxed by what is known as a head tax.
Jews were resistant to a head tax to Caesar called a tribute.
Not only did Judah resent being invaded by Rome and having to pay a tax for a government they didn’t want, but that the Roman tribute coin minted in Rome, bore the head of Caesar. Since Caesar was worshipped as a god, the Jews believed that this was idolatry against God—violating the Ten Commandments by making an offering to a graven image. Head taxes were also paid on sheep and cattle. How would all of you who have animals like to pay additional taxes on each of your animals?
It’s time to trap Jesus. Is it lawful according to the Torah to pay the head tax? If Jesus answers: Yes means idolatry against the Ten Commandments and is unpatriotic. By answering no means Jesus is guilty of sedition to the Roman authorities.
Jesus transcends the polarization in his statement: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In the latter half of the statement of giving the things to God that are God’s, Jesus teaches about stewardship.
What are the things that are God’s?
Let’s reverse the question—what doesn’t belong to God? Living like everything belongs to God aligns us with the Father’s will. Jesus is reiterating the Word given to Moses in Deuteronomy 30 when he says, “choose life, that both you and your seed may live: That you may love the LORD your God, and obey his voice…for he [is] your life…” Choose life, says Moses.
Choosing life is stewardship.
I’ve read that the average person makes 35,000 choices per day. We’re rarely aware of how many choices we really make. Most are based on our past history of conditioning and are done on automatic pilot.
The Hebrew word for life is both singular and plural, meaning the temporal life we live on earth is coupled with the eternal life we can begin living now. By choosing life we choose both life in the now and life forever as they are intertwined, not separated.
I wonder, what would it be like to be able to reflect on each choice we make prayerfully, asking God to help us choose life in each instant? Would our lives change for the better? Choosing life means our daily choices are in alignment with the Spirt of God’s order of creation, creating harmony in ourselves, others and in creation.
By choosing life, our choices also have a cumulative affect increasing life exponentially within and in our environment. Choosing life is stewardship—a spiritual practice in all that we do with all that we are and all that we have received.
Choosing life—the practice of stewardship—is the place where joy is to be found.