When I was in college, I had a professor who had a habit of slipping "trick
questions" into our exams. It was a course in logic, so that opened the door to all
kinds of abuse. The questions were always deceptively easy - usually so easy that you knew
that there was something wrong. So we would ponder over them, wasting a lot of precious
time on them, coming up with all kinds of convoluted answers to what were really very
simple questions. And, of course, when we went over the tests, everyone would groan when
he revealed the answer - it was always so simple!
The reason he did that was not simply to get a rise from us - although I'm sure that
was part of the reason. He also wanted us to be aware of the obvious. And a lot of times
people are so involved in trying to figure out things - figuring out life - that the
obvious escapes them.
Such was the case with the Pharisees and Saducees in Jesus' day. We are told that they
wanted to catch Jesus. So these two parties, who usually didn't get along, finally got
their heads together for a common purpose - to try to get rid of Jesus. He was a thorn in
both of their sides. They know that the crowds like him, and don't particularly want to
antagonize the crowds. They really don't want to get their hands dirty either. So they try
to set Jesus up. They think that they can create a situation where either they can turn
the crowds against him, or cause him to get in trouble with the law.
Now, the fact is that the Jewish people were probably the most heavily taxed people in
history. Not only did they have to pay Rome to occupy them but, because they did not serve
in the Roman army, Rome levied an additional tax on them to make up for that. In addition,
of course to the ten percent temple tax that Jewish law required. It is estimated that up
to seventy-five percent of their income went to taxes. So the people were not happy about
their taxes. On the other hand, to remonstrate against paying taxes was seen as an act of
rebellion - and Rome could not put up with that. So here was the trick question: they
would ask Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes or not. If he said yes, he would be
seen as lining up with the Romans, and the people would leave him. If he said no, then he
was in dutch with the Romans, and they would get rid of him. It sounded pretty good! And
all they had to do was to set the stage!
Of course, it backfired on them. Jesus answers them, "Render to Caesar the things
that are Caesar's, and the things to God that are God's." The Romans couldn't
complain about that. He was advocating giving Caesar his due, wasn't he? Nor could those
who were against them complain. After all, wasn't he really saying that everything was
God's? But it leaves us in a quandry, doesn't it? What is he really saying?
Luther, in talking about this very matter, says that God rules in two kingdoms. One is
his rule through the political realm. It is a rule by law, a rule mediated through
fallible human beings, and therefore not a direct rule. But it is his rule nonetheless.
The other rule is what he calls the "right hand rule" of God, through the
Gospel, mediated by the church. It is a direct rule, not mediated by human beings, but
delivered through the "means of grace," the Word and Sacraments.
But the point is, that both are areas of God's concern; both are realms of God's rule.
So, when Jesus says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the
things that are God's," he is acknowledging that both areas are realms of God's
concern, and both realms express God's care for us. They are two sides of the same coin.
However imperfectly human beings carry out their duties in the political realm - and we
know how imperfect they can be - that realm is still an expression of God's care for us.
Sometimes that care can be a wonderful thing. Throughout the flood and its aftermath,
our town manager, a big bear of a man that everyone calls "J. J.," has been
wonderful. During the flood, he rode around the flooded areas on a big front loader,
checking people's homes, keeping tabs on who was still in town and how their properties
were faring, trying to help and comfort people in that traumatic time. Afterward, he went
to each of the pastors in town, including me, insisting that we get together quickly,
bringing in representatives from the Red Cross, FEMA and others, so that people could get
help quickly. What a wonderful blessing he has been! On the other hand, I have been less
impressed with some of the state and federal officials and some of their statements; yet I
understand how difficult it is to stand at a distance and try to help. It just seems that
too many things, as well as the worst of what has become known as "politics,"
gets in the way. But the political realm can be a wonderful expression of
And certainly the Gospel is a wonderful and very direct expression of God's rule. His
Word is a great comfort to us, and the sacraments, baptism and communion, help take that
Word and attach its promises to our life in ways that we can easily understand. Baptism
tells us that we are his children, that we live our lives in promise, and that we will
always be his. Communion is the celebration of the Body of Christ, helping us to
understand that we are both forgiven and reconciled to one another, that we are not in
life alone, that the gifts of Jesus' family are ours. And what a blessing that is!
Of course the other thing that Jesus' statement helps us to understand is that both
realms are truly God's rule. When we hear him say, "Render to God the things that are
God's," we should become aware that, certainly, everything is God's. He is not
drawing a division between what is Caesar's and what is God's. All of life belongs to him.
In both realms, he shows his love and care for us. And, therefore, everything we have is
truly his - they are all gifts from his hand. We cannot hold back one area of life and
call it "Caesar's." All that Caesar has is also God's. And that thought can be
extended to every other area of life. There is nothing that is truly "mine"
either. Paul says that even our life is not our own - it belongs to Christ. We cannot
compartmentalize our life, put ten percent in one area and call it "church,"
another portion in another place and call it "Caesar's," another portion in
another place and call it "family," or "business," or
"mine." It is all God's.
That is where we begin to understand life as stewardship. In a few minutes, at the
offering, we will pray, "Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you
have first given us - our selves, our time and our possessions, signs of your gracious
love. Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us. . . ." That is
what Jesus is telling us today. God loves us, and has shared the rich fruits of his
kingdom with us. In every area of life he shares his blessings; in every area of life he
But the most important area of life where he wishes to rule, is an area where he leaves
the choice up to you. It is the kingdom of your heart. As Luther says, "God's kingdom
comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask . . . that it may come also to
us." The question is not, "where does God rule in the world," but
"does he rule in your heart and life." The question is not, "what area of
life is God's," but "how much of your life, of your heart, have you given to
The good news is that he can take every area of life - your profession, your family,
your hobbies, your friendships - and through them express his love and care for both you
and others. Turned over to him, they become wonderful gifts, given through human hands -
your hands - but expressing his loving care for the world he loves so much, the world
where he is Lord of all of life. Amen.