This passage from Matthew’s Gospel finds Jesus back in Jerusalem in the last week of his life. He has cleansed the Temple (21:12-17), cursed a fig tree (21:18-22), confronted those who questioned his authority (21:23-27), and recounted parables (21:28-33; 22:1-14). He is then confronted by Pharisees who attempt to entrap him with the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Jesus asks to see the coin used to pay the tax, and when a denarius is produced, he asks whose head is on the coin. It is the emperor’s, and Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Through this statement, we are invited to take a closer look at our own “coins”—the things we place value on through our commitments of time, attention, resources, and energy. What are the parts of our lives that belong to the culture versus those that belong to God? And do those “coins” reflect the values that we want to hold? What image is written on our hearts?
As those who belong to God, we can ask ourselves, What does it mean for me to give to God the things that belong to God? What parts of my life do I hold back from surrendering to God? We might hold back our relationships, finances, jobs, churches, or political views. What would it mean for us to give to God all of ourselves—our hopes, fears, dreams, grief, disappointments, and regrets?
Spend some time today examining the ways you live out your values. To what do you give the greatest commitment of time? money? attention? worry? Based on these commitments, what image is written on your heart? What are the things you are holding that need to be surrendered to God? What would it mean if you gave to God all of yourself?
Popular images often portray God as a passive grandfather figure. However, this is not the picture scripture provides. God’s presence has a profound impact on the physical world. In Exodus, Moses feels insecure about the calling on his life and asks to see God’s glory. God in part grants this request, but no one can experience the presence of God completely and live. The psalmist describes how God is exalted and how God’s holiness shakes the earth itself. The New Testament readings explore different themes. Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians by commending them for their faith and partnership in the spreading of the gospel. In Matthew, the Pharisees attempt to trap Jesus in his words, yet he confounds their efforts.
Read Exodus 33:12-23. When have you struggled to believe that God is with you? How did you find a sign of God’s presence?
Read Psalm 99. How has God heard your cry? How can you listen with God for the cries of others?
Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. When does your faith call you to live in a countercultural way? How do you show the world how to live?
Read Matthew 22:15-22. You belong to God. How do you feel God’s call on your life?
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