My sermon for today was based on Matthew 22: 15-22.
To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.
Ok, so granted, MLK Jr. and Hitler rarely, if ever, get mentioned in the same sentence, but the reality is that both of them were very charismatic individuals, gifted orators and inspired thousands.
But there is, of course, one reeeeally big difference: one was good, the other was evil.
One used his words and his gifts to liberate, to empower, to build other people up. The other used his gifts to enslave, to coerce, to crush an entire race and serve his own insane ego.
Each was gifted, but their motivations differed greatly.
And isn't that true about all of us?
We are all gifted, whether we are aware of it or not. We all have talents and skills, whether they be artistic, intellectual, wealth, time, or what have you.
The relevant question is what do we do with those gifts? What should we do with those gifts?
Today's Gospel is a perfect example of gifts gone wrong. The Pharisees and Herodians approach Jesus with perhaps one of the most loaded questions ever asked.
It should first of all strike us as funny that the Pharisees and the Herodians should even be in the same room together. The former were the ultra-orthodox of Judaism, while the latter were from Herod's entourage, the same Herod who called himself the "King of the Jews", a big no-no according to orthodox Judaism. But nonetheless, Jesus is enough of a threat to both groups that these enemies are willing and able to hop into bed together to put a stop to him.
They ask Jesus whether it is lawful to pay the tribute tax to Caesar. This was a bone of contention within Judaism because it amounted to acknowledging the Caesar's claim that he was their king and that he was their God. Neither sat well with a monotheistic people.
The problem is this: if he says yes, the Pharisees will hang him because he is speaking blasphemously against Jewish law. If he says no, the Herodians will hang him because he speaking seditiously against Roman law.
Typical Jesus, he skirts the question by asking them to produce the coins that were used to pay the tax. We don't know whether it is a Pharisee or a Herodian, but someone has one, and they are thus incriminated because according to Jewish law (which even the Herodians claimed to follow), they are not supposed to carry that currency because it bears the likeness and the title of the Caesar.
But Scripture makes nothing of that point.
It makes much of Jesus' response: "Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar", meaning if it has his face on it, it belongs to him, so you might as well give it back.
He follows it up by saying, "Give unto God that which is God's".
What is striking to me about this passage is not so much Jesus's answer, but it's that it is obviously a well-arranged set-up.
The Pharisees and the Herodians quite obviously got together and hatched this scheme together to entrap Jesus. And is is a pretty brilliant scheme which Jesus only just manages to slip out of. A pretty brilliant scheme which took some pretty brilliant minds to come up with.
I can't help but wonder what the Pharisees and Herodians could have accomplished if they had sat down and bent their significant intellects and resources towards bettering themselves, their fellow men and women, and their society.
But instead, they followed their own selfish drives and collaborated to eliminate a man who tried to free us all from bondage to self, the oppression of elitist religion and politics.
That's pretty sad. Imagine what all of the evil in the world could accomplish if they just turned to good instead.
Imagine what we could accomplish.