Then [Jesus] said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Fear and anxiety are common emotions in the United States right now. Thanks to the economic turmoil of Wall Street, and even with the government’s massive attempts at intervention, the stock market has resembled some gravity-defying amusement park ride, pension funds have dropped like the water level in a leaky bucket, and home foreclosures are hitting all too close to home.
Turning inward it is easy to be unsettled by what is going on all around us. Will I lose everything I have worked for? Is my job in jeopardy? Will I be able to pay my debts? Notice that everything in those concerns revolves around “I.” Where is God to be found in all of this?
I think this week’s lectionary lessons give us some good news and advice to face these troubled times. First of all, in the reading from Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians were up to their usual tricks of trying to trap and discredit Jesus. They ask whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor.
Jesus knows what they are up to, and he turns the tables and traps them at their own game. They bring out the coin he asks to see, and then tells them “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Speechless and frustrated they leave him alone.
Jesus is pointing out that everything really belongs to God. We may think we possess our possessions, and we may even have faith that our government and the financial industry work for our best interests, but the truth of the matter is that only God is in control, and only God truly has our best interests at heart. One of the critical steps in moving from the illusion of control to a life of biblical stewardship is in letting go of the notion of possession.
So instead of worrying compulsively about what’s happening on Wall Street, perhaps we should focus on the abundance we still have under God’s gracious care and about just how much we can do to alleviate the suffering in this world. Yesterday in our parish – despite all the financial woes around us – people still gave generously beyond their regular offering for two projects. The Sunday school is raising money to purchase treated bed nets for children in developing nations, and our parish is working to raise an additional 25 percent beyond our pledged mission support to fulfill our synod’s mission plan. We’re doing this by giving the equivalent of what we would spend on one soft drink or coffee each week. Both collection cups were filled to overflowing as individuals focused on their abundance and how they could be good stewards of God’s gifts.
Yes, we need to discern carefully how best to manage the resources with which we have been entrusted, but we also do well to remember whom we really serve — and that our gracious and loving God is in control. Like the Christians at Thessalonica from the epistle reading this week, let us turn “to serve a living and true God,” remembering that everything, including our very selves belongs to the Creator of the Universe.
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.