The Things That Are God's
In tomorrow's Gospel reading Jesus is tested in the Temple with the question "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" Jesus famously said, "Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."
Sarah Dylan Bruer writes on this passage saying,
So what in this world is God's?Her full reflection is online here: What belongs to God is everything
Our reading for this Sunday from Isaiah provides some clues. It has God addressing Cyrus, King of Persia, a gentile, as one who is nonetheless called by the God of Israel. In other words, it's not solely the people of Israel who are God's, but everyone to whom God gives life and breath. And God tells this gentile king, that he is providing help "though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things" (Isaiah 45:4-7). East or west, light or dark, in all circumstances, God is God, and there is none other. Our psalm for this Sunday describes God similarly as Lord of all peoples, of all the earth.
As Psalm 24:1 puts it:
The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it.
It's a claim even more sweeping than some people would have wanted to make as they said that the land of Israel and everything in it belonged to the God of Israel. But as far as it relates to the question Jesus was asked — the question of whether Israelites should pay taxes to Caesar — it boils down to essentially the same thing:
What belongs to God is everything.
And if we really take seriously the claim that God is rightful Lord of the earth and all that is in it, the world and all people in it, over what is Caesar a rightful lord?
Nothing. Squat. Nada.
That is the radical edge and the liberating cry of the claim that "Jesus is Lord"; as I've argued before, it's that when we make that the central fact of our lives, nobody and nothing else gets to make the same claim.
Labels: Gospel reading