29 Sunday A: Give to God and to Caesar what belongs to each

Gospel reading: Matthew 22:15-22 
Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments
 
Today’s passage is built around the saying in verse 21, “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. It is a “wisdom saying” and the passage invites us to enter into it with our feelings. Its truth should touch us so deeply that we are filled with gratitude, and also with humility as we realise that do we do not live up to it – as individuals, as a Church and as communities.  The saying then becomes a call to repentance.

phariseesjc
 In order to bring the saying alive in this way, we need to read it in the context of a story, which is how it is presented to us, not as an abstract timeless truth but as a response to a situation. The question for us then is, when did we experience a similar situation? And then, who was the Jesus who spoke as he did?
We must be careful to interpret the saying correctly. In the course of the Church’s  history, it has often been taken to mean that there are areas of life which are Caesar’s domain and other areas which are God’s.
 In fact the saying has been used to justify the claim that religious leaders should not “interfere” in secular fields like politics, economics or culture.
This could not possibly be the meaning, however. The entire teaching of Jesus, indeed the entire bible, insists that the whole of creation “belongs to God” – “his is the earth and the fullness thereof”. There is no question of “separate domains” therefore, since everything belongs to God.
The saying is rather about keeping priorities right. The Pharisees voice a concern which seems at first sight to be harmless but is in fact a “trap”. They are not neutral. For them, paying taxes to Caesar is important, whereas for Jesus (as for all people whose priorities are right) it is only of relative importance:  he says in effect,  “you can give back to Caesar whatever belongs to him (whatever has his head engraved on it); just make sure you don’t give him what belongs to God”.
“What belongs to God” must be taken in a wide sense to mean what is so precious that we cannot make concessions where it is concerned – family, friendship, the sanctity of sex, self respect, compassion,humility, care for the poor, etc.
coins
 Jesus then is challenging the Pharisees to get their priorities right.
– His position can be expressed positively: treasure what is primary for you, and you will find that you will have no problem looking after (“paying your taxes” to) what is secondary.
– It can also be expressed  negatively: don’t take secondary things so seriously (“pay taxes to them”) that you end up compromising what is primary.
We enter into the drama of “whose head is this?”  Feel Jesus’ inner freedom (a hint of disdain) when he says, “well then, give it back to him”. On the other hand feel the terrible sadness of a priority gone wrong
– allowing something that is sacred (“belongs to God”), to have “Caesar’s head” engraved on it.
The passage is intended to evoke memories of people or communities getting  priorities wrong:
– parents who provide material benefits for their children but neglect to give them quality time.
doing your best     – teachers who stress success in examinations and forget to praise those who are not successful but do their best.
– Church leaders who are more concerned with what people think than with being faithful to the message of Jesus.
– public officials who work for popularity and compromise their integrity.
Jesus is the person (or community) pointing out that priorities have gone wrong. As with all insightful statements, his answer is simple but surprising (“it took them by surprise”) and deeply satisfying (“they left him alone and went away”).
A sign that we have made a good meditation is that we identify with the Pharisees. If we find ourselves looking down on them, it means that we haven’t really entered into the story. They represent us (sometimes an inner voice within us) when we voice concerns which are important  but which are really “a trap” in which more important values are lost. This situation occurs in:
– our  personal lives, e.g. concerns with health, job security, standing in the community;
– the life of the Church, e.g. concerns for large numbers, prestige, structures;
– the development of a social movement, e.g. concern with taking political power, finances.
The details of how the Pharisees “went about” asking their question are all significant and can help us recognise them from our experience.
– They “set traps”: their concern hampers true growth.
– They “work it out”: their arguments are very subtle; note in particular the unctuous language; we are never more “pious” than when we are rationalizing our fears and prejudices.
– They do it “between them”: what they say represents the  thinking of many, an entire class or even a culture.
The Pharisees’ flattery in verse 16 is part of their “trap”, but we can take their words at face value. They were right to say that Jesus was “an honest man” who “taught the way of God in an honest way,” that he was “not afraid of any one” and that people’s rank “meant nothing to him”. We celebrate people (or communities) like that;  we read these words as a call to repentance.
Prayer Reflection
upanishads “See the Divine self in all and all in the Divine self.”  …The Upanishads
Lord, there was a time when we had become overly concerned for what was relatively unimportant:
– what people thought about us,
– being financially secure,
– not making mistakes,
– being hurt.
We recognise now that this concern was undermining our priorities,
like the Pharisees working out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said.
We thank you that you sent us Jesus,
– close friends,
– members of our community,
– some of our children,
– national  leaders.
They made us aware of the malice in this concern,
told us that we were quite right to give to Caesar what belonged to him
but that we had allowed ourselves to give to Caesar what belonged to you  alone.
We thank you, Lord, for the insight, so simple and yet so surprising.
What had seemed an insoluble problem was now solved,
we left it alone and went our way. Thank you, Lord.
“We ought not to consider our chance of living or dying, we ought only to consider whether we are doing right or wrong.”  …Socrates 
socratesLord, from time to time you come into our lives
calling us to re-establish right priorities:
– through a bible passage or a homily;
– through some friend or a member of our family pointing out our faults;
– when one of our dream projects collapses in failure.
Forgive us that we refuse to hear what you are saying.
We know that if we did we would have to change our ways.
So like the Pharisees working out how to trap Jesus in what he said,
we think up all kinds of arguments:
– following this way will harm our health or hurt those dear to us;
– it is against common sense and no one else is doing it;
– it will offend powerful people and cause confusion in the community.
At such times we become very pious,
we say how much we long to be true and how open we are,
but really we are marshaling a thousand reasons for staying as we are.
Lord, have mercy on us Pharisees.
Lord, our culture lays too much stress on things that are important but secondary,
like wealth, prestige and popularity.
We are like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus
worrying about  whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar,
and so we end up setting traps for the idealists you have sent us
and are totally surprised at their answers.
Jesus light of worldLord, we pray that we, the members of your Church, may be wise like Jesus
with the wisdom that comes from being honest,
from not being afraid of anyone because people’s rank means nothing to us,
and from giving you what belongs to you.
Once rooted in his wisdom we can escape from the traps
that are set for us by the false values of our time;
we will recognise the things that have Caesar’s image on them
and have no problem giving them back to him.
On the other hand we will recognise the things that bear your image alone.
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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

love and serveThe Holy Spirit has gathered us here to offer thanks and praise to the Father through our union with Jesus. But in discovering our relationship with God, we also discover our relationship with other human beings, and our place within God’s creation. So we are called to love and serve God and we are called to love and serve others. We often think that it is enough to serve either God or humanity: serve one and ignore the other. But life just isn’t that simple: we have to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. Part of our mission as Christians is to negotiate and balance these responsibilities. It is this mission we are going to reflect on today.

Homily Notes
1. The phrase ‘rendering to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God’ is one of the bits of scripture that people often use without recognising its origin. But it is a phrase that we can do well to keep with us.
2. We all know we have a variety of duties and responsibilities:
To those immediatly around us who love us and whom we love: care, respect, and tenderness are not optionalin our relationships.
• We have responsibilities to those we work with and to those who employ us – honesty and integrity are supposed to be hallmarks of Christians;’
• We have responsibilities to the larger society ; we.are called to be responsible citizens.
• We have responsibilitIes toward the whole of humanity in that we must work for peace and developinerit – this is something’ .. that we are conscious of today but which it would hardly having been worth mentioning a century ago;
• We have responsibilities toward the environment and the care of the planet, indeed because we believe we are all creatures and that God has made us stewards of creation we have an interest in this that is far more demanding than that of an environmentalist who would not recognise the divine origin of the creation – again this is not something that would have been given prominence even a few decades ago and some who call themselves Christians still think environmental concerns are not really ‘religious’ issues despite saying each week’ we believe in one God … maker of all that is, seen and unseen’.
• And we are called in the Spirit to follow the Christ, to become part of his body the church, and offer praise and thanks to our heavenly Father – prayer and praise and an awareness of the mystery that surrounds us is part of our humanity.
3. If we had a little score card of all those duties with this question before each of them: ‘Do you think this is part of the duties of a member of the People of God?’, then virtually every one of us would tick the ‘yes’ box for each question.
4. However, just as at the time of Jesus, we try to play one off against the other.
mission5. Some Christians try to argue that it can be an ‘either … or’ situation. Some people who are opposed to religion argue that religious people are only concerned with ‘spiritual’ things. Others opposed to religion argue that they should be only concerned with ‘spiritual’ things. Many, for various reasons, argue that ‘religion has no place’ in this or that sphere of human living. Thus they imply that we should not consider ourselves as having any responsibilities in this or that concern.
6. In the face of this we must remember that God is the Lord of all creation. In his love God has given the creation a freedom and integrity, and given humanity responsibilities within it. We are called to live lives of prudence, always keeping in mind the variety of our duties to self, others, the world, and God. It is in taking care of this variety of responsibilities that we fulfill the command to render Caesar’s thing;s to Chesar,  and God’s things to God.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

It is always heartening when a bully comes off the worse for wear in a confrontation. And it is all the better if there is a comical element in the situation.
Some people might perceive a humorous element in the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees when they were trying to entrap him by asking him if it was lawful to give tribute to the Roman Emperor Caesar. Matthew informs us that the Pharisees were up to no good. They were discussing among themselves how they could ensnare Jesus when he was teaching the multitudes (see Mt 22:15).
They knew that if Jesus said anything that could be interpreted as criticising Caesar, they would be able to accuse him of treason, although they hated the Roman occupiers and the Emperor themselves. They were blatantly duplicitous and were shameless in their plotting and planning to outwit Jesus.
Cunningly, they began by praising Jesus, telling him that he was a truthful preacher and that he taught God’s will. Therefore, they said mischievously, they would welcome his thoughts about the issue of paying tribute to Caesar.
But Matthew revealed that Jesus knew their wickedness and, instead of answering directly, he asked them for a coin. Then Jesus asked them to look at the coin and explain whose image was on the coin, whose inscription. He was forcing them to confront the truth. When they replied ‘Caesar’s’, Jesus told them, famously, that the answer to their question was to ‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God’ (Mt 22:21).
Jesus too paid his taxes
                    Jesus paid his taxes
There are several lessons that we can learn from this episode. The first, perhaps the most obvious, is that it is not only legitimate for a Christian to obey the just laws of the state and to pay taxes but we have a duty to do so. We have this example from Jesus who was born into a nation that was subject to an oppressive invading regime. Here he said nothing about a change of regime. Yet he advocated being subject to the law and paying due taxes.
Another lesson from this encounter between Jesus and the scheming Pharisees is that we need to use our imaginations to take the truth to those outside the Church. Notice that Jesus did not dialogue with the Pharisees in an effort to reach some kind of consensus on the matter of whether or not the Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. He simply confronted them with the facts in an imaginative way. They were unable to refute that he was speaking the truth.
So it will be with us if we make a point of faithfully rendering the Church’s teaching to those around us, whenever the opportunity arises. Indeed, we pray for the zeal to seek opportunities to bring others into the Church where the fullness of God’s revelation and grace is to be found.
We know that we have a duty to render to Caesar, that is, our civic and political responsibilities. But we cannot forget that there is also a need to give time and energy to worshipping God in prayer and charitable works. That is how we give to God what belongs to God.
For meditation
You hypocrites! Why do you set out to trap me? (Mt 22:18)
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Donal Neary SJ
A place for everything!


My mother used always say – put things where they belong. Newspapers, food, the bicycle not in the hall, and other homely advice. Jesus says the same here – give what belongs to where it belongs and to whom.
So Jesus is being asked about taxes and politics. He knows he is being trapped about money. He moves on to higher questions. Something about the answer of Jesus asks us — where do we belong?
Belonging can sound heavy – as if we are being controlled, or our money belongs to us and we can do what we like with it But for Jesus it’s the belonging of love, not of power and control.
Much is not in our control. We are born and die at God’s time. This reminds us that we are not the masters of our lives, we come from God and go to God. This belonging is the centre of our human family and community. God doesn’t want to control us but to love us.
But there’s an addition: belonging to God means belonging to each other. We have rights and duties of love. To give to oth­ers what belongs to others; give to the poor what belongs to the poor. Everyone has a right to the food of the earth and the food of the mind, and shelter for the body. It’s not charity when peo­ple are given food, education, a home, freedom of religion, free­dom of speech – it is justice. To give to God what belongs to God is to share the goods of the earth!
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From The Connections:

THE WORD:
In today’s Gospel, two opponents of Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians (supporters of Herod’s dynasty), join forces to trap Jesus.  If Jesus affirms that taxes should be paid, he alienates the religious nationalists; if he denies that taxes should be paid, then he is subject to arrest by the Romans as a political revolutionary.  But the very fact that his inquisitors could produce the emperor’s coin from one of their purses was to admit a Roman obligation:  If one used the sovereign’s coin then one automatically took on an obligation to the sovereign; in other words, the Pharisees and Herodians, in trying to trap Jesus, answered their own question.  But Jesus takes the debate to an even higher level by challenging them to be just as observant in paying their debt to God.
 
HOMILY POINTS:
The confrontation over Caesar’s coin is not a solution to any church-versus-state controversy; Jesus’ response to the Pharisees confronts them – and us – with the demand to act out of our convictions and to take responsibility for our actions. 
Jesus appeals to us to look beyond the simplistic politics and black-and-white legalisms represented by the coin and realize that we are called to embrace the values centered in a faith that sees the hand of God in all things and every human being as part of a single family under the providence of God. 
The Pharisees who confront Jesus with Caesar’s coin are trying to trap him into making a choice between one’s country and God.  But Jesus’ response indicates that one’s citizenship does not have to be at odds with one’s faith; in fact, when government seeks to provide for the just welfare of its citizens, it becomes a vehicle for establishing the reign of God.
God and Caesar do not have to be at odds, Jesus tells the Pharisees.  In God, we realize the dignity of every man, woman and child as sons and daughters of God and our brothers and sisters; in setting up systems of government, we provide for the common good of one another and protect the welfare of all, providing for public safety, educational opportunities and clean water and air. 
Jesus’ answers are not the clear, unambiguous solutions we hope for to these and many other questions.  But his response is the heart of living our faith: the struggle to return to God what is God’s.  Through prayer and discernment, each one of us has to do for ourselves the hard work of deciding exactly what is God’s will in our complex world of politics, money and human relationships. 

‘Thrift Store Saints’
Fifteen years ago, Jane Knuth, a math teacher and mom, began volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  She approached the work with typical baby-boomer hard-charging determination to “fix the world” — but over the years, the experience changed her.  The poor and desperate she has been able to help have deepened her own faith and brought her to a new understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jane Knuth has collected stories of her experiences at “St. Vinnie’s” in a delightful book Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25c at a Time.  Thrift Store Saints includes some two dozen stories about the volunteers and patrons of the St. Vincent’s thrift shop.  The Kalamazoo thrift store sells everything from furniture and clothing to basic household items, but also offers financial assistance, referral services — and prayerful and emotional support — to the needy and lost.
Rather than viewing society’s poor as problems to be solved, Jane and her colleagues see them each in a completely different light: as saints who can lead us straight to the heart of Christ.  Jane Knuth writes:
“From all appearances, it looks as if we are running a thrift store at St. Vincent de Paul.  At our meetings we frequently get into discussions about how to better run the store.  Should we raise our prices?  Give away less?  Not accept so many donations?  Lock our dumpster?  Move to a better retail location?  All these issues would come up with any resale shop.  Eventually, it occurs to us that our purpose is not to run the most profitable, shrewd, efficient, riff-raff-free store in town.  Our purpose is to help the poor and to change our way of thinking and being.  It only looks as though we run a store.  The store is just our cover . . .
“I still keep looking for the ‘deserving poor’ – the innocent ones who are blatant victims of injustice and hard luck.  I want to help them and no one else.  From what I can see, apart from children, most poor people’s situations seem to stem from a mixture of uncontrollable circumstances, luck, and their own decisions.  Same as my situation.  Do I deserve everything I have?  Am I somehow more moral, smarter, or a harder worker than poor people?  Sometimes I am, most times I’m not.  Do poor people deserve their daily struggle for existence?  Are they immoral, stupid, and lazy?  Sometimes they are, most times they aren’t.”

God’s image of his human family is realized in the kindness and charity extended by a small thrift store.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus articulates the Father’s vision for humanity: a “banquet” at which all are respected and honored for who they are and the goodness they bring to the king’s table, be it the “table” of the classroom, the clinic, the playground, the home.  If we are to be truly faithful to God’s vision, the compassion of God must transform our heart’s perspective, enabling us to see beyond ethnic stereotypes, economic distinctions, class and celebrity, to recognize every man, woman and child as made in the same image and likeness of God in which we were all created; we must be willing both to give joyfully what we have and to accept humbly what others bring to the table.  God’s “banquet” is only realized when we embrace a radically new vision of humanity, a perspective that ignores suspicions, doubts and stereotypes and, instead, recognizes everyone, first, as a child of God, worthy of respect, love and compassion.  
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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

a.     Secular Messiahs

Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary-General of the UN. When he died in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961 at the age of 66, the world lost a great servant of peace. He was a rare person for whom public service was not simply a career or means of achieving power, but a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God. He said: “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself and in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” –Gandhi is another example of a deeply religious man who involved himself in politics. He said: “I am in politics because I cannot separate life from belief. Because I believe in God I have to enter politics. Politics is my service to God.” Nelson Mandela is yet another example of how God uses all kinds of people, not necessarily religious, to lead people to God. Mandela tells us how, when he began to get interested in politics, a friend tried to warn him off saying, “Politics brings out the worst in people. It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.” Fortunately, for South Africa and the world, Mandela ignored his advice.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ 

In today’s gospel the Pharisees bring the issue of paying taxes to the Romans for Jesus’ opinion on the matter. “Is it permissible to pay taxes or not?” The overt question is whether it is proper to pay taxes to the government, but there is a hidden agenda that Jesus is well aware of. Whichever way Jesus answered the question would trap him. If he said taxes had to be paid to Rome the people would be against him and if he said the opposite he would be seen as fomenting rebellion against the authorities. Jesus completely side steps the issue by asking for a coin with which the taxes were to be paid. This coin bore the image of Caesar and an inscription proclaiming his authority. Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is not entering into a discussion of the rights of the state and the rights of religion; but on the occasion of the question he proposes a deeper truth. What matters more to Jesus than being under Caesar’s rule and paying taxes, is belonging to God’s kingdom. Jesus is reminding his listeners of a deeper issue, that of being people of God. If they belong to God then they have to give God his due. God has to be the most important priority in their lives. What they owe to God is far more important than what they owe to anyone else. It is easy to remember what we owe to our fellow men but we can forget what we owe to God. The ideal Christian is one who fulfils his duty both to his fellowmen and to God. Only when there is a clash of interests do we have to remind ourselves that God always comes first. Besides God, Christians have a duty towards their fellow men. Christians should not shirk public office but see it as an opportunity to serve their fellowmen. 

b.     I love my country but there is a higher authority, God!

Franz Jaggerstatter was born in Austria and was brought up a Catholic. He was an ordinary, unremarkable young man, however at some stage he suddenly matured. He became very responsible and began to take religion seriously. By this time the Second World War was raging. At thirty-six he was called up to serve Hitler’s army. He refused to join up. “I cannot join because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience.” He said. “But where’s your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?” his friends protested. “Franz replied, “I love my people and I love my country. But there’s a higher law–God’s law. And God’s law tells me that this war is wrong.” It wasn’t that he wanted to die. He had a lot to live for -his family and friends. He was arrested and put into prison. Then further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife begged him to reconsider his decision. But all to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. He felt he was obeying the words of Christ: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy day Liturgies’ 

It is hoped that our double citizenship of being citizens of two worlds, the material and spiritual, never clash. If they ever do, the Christian must resolve the conflict as St. Thomas More, the martyr did. King Henry VIII was validly married to Catherine of Aragon. He appealed to Rome to annul the marriage so he could marry Ann. Rome refused. Henry cut off allegiance to the Pope and declared himself ‘The only supreme head of the Church of England.’ He ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agreed he acted rightly. Many signed but Thomas More his friend and Lord Chancellor refused. He was put in prison for 15 months and finally executed. His last words were “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”

Anonymous 

c.     Doing your Duty!!

We all laugh at the reputed story of Pat Murray at the Battle of Trafalgar, whose version of the Battle was as follows: “Lord Nelson came on deck and said ‘Is Pat Murray on board?’ And I said ‘Here I am, me Lord.’ Then said his lordship, ‘Let the battle proceed.’ And yet, while this was written for a joke, there is more to it than we are apt to think. For had it not been for the Pat Murrays, or John Joneses or Tom Smiths and others who were on hand doing their duty, there would have been no victories for the Nelsons, Wellingtons, Napoleons or Grants, who now live in history as great commanders.

A.W. Graham in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’ 

d.     Spiritual Foundations

The Great Wall of China was a gigantic structure, costing immense expenditure and labour, and when finished it seemed a superb way to gain security; but within a few years of its building it was breached three times by the enemy. Only note, it was breached, not by breaking down the wall but by bribing the gate-keepers. It was the human element that failed; what collapsed was character, proving insufficient the task to make the great structure men had built really work. A like fate awaits all those who, absorbed in political tasks, forget the spiritual foundation.

Anthony P. Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

e.     What will you give me?

There was once a prince and his family. When they were brought before him, King Cyrus asked the captured prince: “What will you give me if I release you?” “Half of my wealth.” “And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” “And If I release your wife?” “Your majesty, I will give you myself.” Cyrus was so greatly moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could keep my eyes only on you my husband–the one who was willing to give himself for me.” (John Pichapilly in ‘The Table of the Word’) 

f.      Give back to God...

Theologian Jon Sobrino published a book “Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness.” A political holiness is what the church badly needs. I sense that we have too much of ‘Church Politics’ and too little of a ‘political Church.’ There’s politicking present in demands for ecclesiastical appointments, but hardly any interest in burning issues facing society and the Church. The current issue of granting concessions to Dalit-Christians (former untouchables) in India is significant. Is this a political or a religious question? I frame the question differently: “Is there anything which is not political? Or anything which is not religious?” Evidently, everything belongs to God. Let us give back to God even what belongs to Caesar!

Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds’ 

2.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil: 

a.     “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Perhaps we can illustrate all this with one case, that of St. Thomas More, the English martyr, Robert Bolt dramatized More’s conflict – regarding what is Caesar’s and what is God’s –  in the drama A Man for All Seasons. Recall the story. King Henry VIII of England is validly married. He appeals to Rome to annual the marriage. But there is no honest basis for annulment. Rome refuses. Henry takes matters into his own hands, declares himself Head of the Church in England and remarries. He then orders his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree he acted rightly in the matter. Many of More’s friends sign, but More refuses. Henry demands that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state. More refuses. He had two obligations, one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, More had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship. We are citizens of the world and citizens of Heaven. We have an allegiance and an obligation to each. We hope the obligations will never clash. But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

b.     Caesar and God:

In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, the newly-elected President of the United States, made the famous statement: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.  My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.  With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking God’s blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  If we personalized Kennedy’s statement it would read, “Don’t ask, ‘What can my country do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for my country?’”  And add, “Don’t ask, ‘What can God do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for God?’”  Today’s Gospel lesson gives the correct answer.

c.     Honesty and Trigonometry:  

Dr. Madison Sarratt taught Mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years.  Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class, “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty.  I hope you will pass them both, fulfilling your obligations to your teacher and to your God.  If you fail, fail for trigonometry.  There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are not many   people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty the debt we owe to God.” This piece if advice sounds like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God." 

       d. No dues to God:

A prosperous farmer was miserly in what he gave to his Church.  So, his pastor went to visit him with the hope of getting him to increase his donation.  The pastor pointed out to him that the Lord had given him a fertile piece of land and had blessed him with sunshine and rain so that his crops would grow.  The priest added, “You know, this farm and everything you have is really on loan to you from God.  You should be more grateful.”  The farmer replied, “I don’t mean to complain, Father, but you should have seen what a mess this place was when God was running it by Himself!”

        e. Journey to God with a parcel of Caesar:

There once was a wealthy man who was determined to take his wealth with him when he died. He prayed and prayed until he convinced the Lord to let him bring his wealth inside the Pearly Gates.  There was one condition:  He could only bring one suitcase of his wealth with him.  Therefore, the rich man filled his suitcase with gold bullion.  Then one day, he died.  St. Peter greeted him at the gate and told him he could come in, but his suitcase would have to be left behind.  “But I have an agreement with God," said the man, "to bring one suitcase into heaven."  "That's very unusual," replied St. Peter.  "Let me look inside that suitcase."  The man opened the suitcase to reveal the shining gold bullion.  St. Peter was amazed.  He asked, "Why in the world did you bring more paving stones to heaven when we have already finished Heaven’s flooring with pure gold and beautiful diamonds?”

        f. Remember the movie, “Oh, God!” with George Burns?  

In that movie, the idea was mentioned that the reason God gave Adam and Eve no clothes to wear was because God knew that once they had clothes, they would want pockets.  Once they had pockets, they would want money.
 
       g. "Will the Reverend also have a martini?"

A pious pastor who had been a teetotaler all his life, was invited to dinner by a new parishioner. "Would you gentlemen care for a drink?" the waiter asked. "I'll have a Martini," said the parishioner. "Will the Reverend also have a martini?" the waiter asked. "I'd sooner break all Ten Commandments," said the pastor. "I didn't know we had a choice," said the parishioner. In today's Gospel Lesson, the Pharisees ask Jesus a question involving choice.
 


19-Additional Anecdotes:
 
1) Value of one vote:
 
We have all learned the value of our vote. It's a lesson we need to be taught again and again. Look at history: One vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of all England in 1645.  One vote in the Rump Parliament caused King Charles I of England to be executed in 1649.  Had it not been for one vote in 1776, the official language in the United States would be German instead of English. One vote kept Aaron Burr - later charged with treason - from becoming President (1800).  Had it not been for one vote in 1845, the state of Texas would not have become part of the United States.  One vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment (1868). One vote admitted California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho into the Union. (1850, 1850, 1889, 1890). One vote changed the entire nation of France from a monarchy to a republic in 1875.  One vote elected Rutherford B. Hayes to the Presidency, and the man in the Electoral College who cast that vote was an Indiana Representative also elected by one vote (1876). It was by one vote that in 1923 Adolph Hitler became the leader of the Nazi party, an event which later resulted in the slaughter of six million Jews. Had it not been for one vote, World War II with all its pain and death might never have taken place.  One vote maintained the Selective Service System only 12 weeks before Pearl Harbor (1941). One vote per precinct would have elected Richard Nixon, rather than John Kennedy, President (1960). One vote by Al Gore in 1993 approved the largest tax increase in U.S. history. These events clearly show that our exercise of the right to vote can make a tremendous difference.  When we use our right to vote we are giving our dues to Caesar as Jesus commanded.  “I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” (Edward Everett Hale).   That should be the attitude of every Christian citizen.

2) True Integrity: the dues we owe to God and our country.
 
Mr. Cleveland Stroud had coached the basketball team, the Blue Collar Bulldogs, of Rockdale County High School (Conyers, Georgia, U.S.A.), for 18 years before his team made it to the state championship.  Stroud recalls, “It was the perfect night when they won, a night you dream of."  He was carried around the gym on the shoulders of his triumphant players and their proud parents.  The local paper put his picture on the front page.  But the excitement was short-lived.  Two months after the championship, during a routine grade check, Stroud discovered that one player had been academically ineligible.  The player had only played 45 seconds during the regional qualifying tournament, and he wasn’t an important player.  Stroud says, "I thought it was all ruined.  I went through a phase where I was really depressed."  He struggled with what to do next.  Yet, his commitment to integrity led him to the right decision.  "Winning is the most important thing for any coach," he says, "but your principles have to be higher than your goals."  He reported the error to the league and the Bulldogs forfeited their trophy.  When the team lamented their loss in the locker room, he told them, "You’ve got to do what is honest, what is right, and what the rules say.  That’s how we pay to God what’s His.  People forget the scores of basketball games, but they don’t ever forget what you are made of" (In Touch Magazine, January 1999).  

3) “Large-scale gangs of criminals?"
 
St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Church patriarch, was the Church's greatest theologian in the tradition of justice. In both his Confessions and The City of God, the theme of justice is a recurring one. While he denied that social justice was necessary simply to maintain order, Augustine, the expert rhetorician, also wryly noted, in words that have become famous, "remove justice, and what are kingdoms but large-scale gangs of criminals?" In his commentary on today's Gospel text, Augustine immediately focuses on the real point of Jesus' words "giving to God what is God's." Augustine insists that when we truly succeed in "giving to God what is God's," we are, in his words, "doing justice to God." Doing justice to God requires that we return to God, with dividends, that which God has entrusted to us.

4) “Caesar died a long time ago.”
 
A father was trying to teach his fifth-grade son the value of tithes and offerings. The boy listened attentively, and then he went on to say, “I still don’t understand why you have to pay taxes.” To this the father replied, “Because the Bible says we must give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God.” His son looked puzzled. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Dad. Caesar died a long time ago.” (Rev. Jeff Hughes).

5) Luciano Pavarotti
 
says that when he was a boy, his father, a baker, introduced him to the wonders of song. He urged him to work hard to develop his voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in his hometown of Modena, Italy, took him as a pupil. Pavarotti also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, he asked his father, "Shall I be a teacher or a singer?" "Luciano," his father replied, "if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair." Pavarotti, later in life wrote: "I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it's laying bricks, writing a book--whatever we choose--we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that's the key. Choose one chair."

6) "Do you go to Church every Sunday?"
 
A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to Church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?" The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees are not being honest. They have no intention of entrusting anything to Jesus. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don't want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble-making Nazarene named Jesus.

7) "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..."
 
 
 
Some years ago in a U.S. District Court, I had the privilege of participating in a naturalization ceremony. Some sixty foreign-born persons were ready to take their citizenship vows. Every place on earth was represented. They reminded me of that old Coca-Cola commercial, "I want to teach the world to sing." These sixty folks had waited five years for this day. They had learned the language, studied the nation's laws, and passed a test and a security check. Behind them sat several hundred proud relatives with cameras. An Army color guard marched in with the flag. Then a soloist sang the National Anthem and God Bless America. The guest speaker was himself a naturalized citizen. Today he is a vice-president of a bank. His very presence spoke volumes about the American dream.
Finally, the new citizens stood to take their vows. But before they could do so, they first had to renounce their previous citizenship, whatever it was. Then all together, with tears flowing down their cheeks, they declared, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..." I want to declare to you today that we Christians hold dual citizenship. Simultaneously, we are citizens of America and also citizens of the Kingdom of God.

8) “We are ‘one nation under God.’"
 
Not long ago in Blackwood, New Jersey, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the senior class could not have a non-sectarian prayer at commencement. The senior class had voted to offer this prayer: "Please bless us in the future and thank you for the blessings of the past. God keep a watchful eye on us in the future. Amen." The court backed the ACLU's contention that the prayer was unconstitutional. But surely our constitution's authors did not mean to prohibit 17- and 18-year-olds from saying such a prayer if they elected to do so. The principal of that high school did have the last word. At the end of his commencement speech he declared, "God bless you and God bless the United States of America!" Immediately the students jumped to their feet and applauded. We are not "one nation without a God." We are not "one nation afraid to name its God." We are "one nation under God."

9) We have something as Christians to render to God as well as something to render to Caesar!
 
American heritage is full of Christian influence. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, they paused to write the Mayflower Compact, the first law of American shores. It reads in part: "In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten ... having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith ... a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia...." George Washington, in his first presidential inauguration, added to his oath, "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible. (It is disputed if George Washington added the words "So help me God" to the oath or somebody else). Ben Franklin, in 1778 at the Constitutional Convention, made motion that proceedings each day be opened with prayer. He said, "I have lived for a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured by the Holy Scriptures that ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain to build it.’ I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall proceed in this political building no better than the founders of Babel." Every Presidential inaugural speech, save one, has mentioned God. Our coins have In God We Trust on them. The Ten Commandments are mostly still in our law books, forbidding theft, lying, murder, and such. Congress is still opened with prayer. George Washington, in his farewell address, said: "The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. As morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related."  So you see, politics and religion can and have mixed in our nation's past. Fact is, as Jesus did say, we have something as Christians to render to God as well as something to render to Caesar!

10) Things we owe to God?  (Give to God what is God’s):
 
Our gifts to God are a response to a gift.  This means that we give out of gratitude for what God has already done on our behalf and not in order to get something back, nor because we hope to receive special favor in return.  But there are some Churches that foster the idea that if we give a lot to the Church, then God will make us prosperous in our lives.  In order to see how ludicrous such theology is, all we have to do is look at what happened to Christ’s disciples who gave themselves fully to his cause.  Matthew suffered martyrdom by the sword in Ethiopia.  Mark died at Alexandria after being dragged through the streets of that city.  Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece. Peter was crucified at Rome with, at his own request, his head downward.  James was beheaded at Jerusalem.  James the Lesser was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple and beaten to death below.  Philip was hanged against a pillar in Phrygia.  Bartholomew was flayed alive.  Andrew was bound to a cross, from whence he preached to his persecutors until he died.  Thomas was stabbed to death by Hindu fanatics in Madras, India.  Jude was shot to death with arrows.  Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded.  Barnabas was stoned to death at Salonica.    John, leading the Church in Ephesus, was arrested during the reign of Diocletian, and was condemned. He was plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil from which he miraculously emerged unhurt. He was then banished to the island of Patmos. In his oldest age, he was set free, returned to Ephesus and died peacefully in his sleep. His whole life was his gift to God.  (“How did John the apostle die?” www/gotquestions.org). Yet, every one of them considered his sufferings and death a privilege!

 11) The Christian and Politics:
 
Christians should not shirk public office, but see it as a chance to serve their fellow men and women and thereby God. The Pharisees opted out of real life and kept themselves apart. The result was a vain religiosity which had little or nothing to do with life. Dag Hammarskjöld was Secretary General of the UN. When he died in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961 at the age of fifty-six, the world lost a great servant of peace. He was that rare person for whom public service is not simply a career or a means of achieving power but a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God. He drew inspiration from the Old Testament prophets. He said, “Indifference to evil is worse, than evil itself, and in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.’ Gandhi is another example of a deeply religious man who involved himself in politics. He said, “I’m in politics because I cannot separate life from belief. Because I believe in God I have to enter politics. Politics is my service of God.” And Nelson Mandela is yet another example. Mandela tells how when he began to get interested in politics a friend tried to warm him off, saying, “Politics brings out the worst in people. It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.” Fortunately for South Africa and for the world, Mandela ignored his advice. (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

 12) Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s:
 
There is a story about a minister who in the early part of the last century was asked to give the Memorial Day address at the national cemetery in Gettysburg, PA.  Like most of the speakers in previous years, he felt a need to conclude his talk by reciting Lincoln’s famous address.  The minister thought that the speech had gone well, but afterwards an old man came forward and said to him, “Son, you’ve made an awful mess of Lincoln’s speech.” Taken aback the minister said, “How so? I didn’t miss a word.  Look, here are my notes.”  “Oh, I don’t need your notes,” said the man, “I know it by heart.  You see I heard it the first time around.”  The minister then realized that this man had been present when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  So the minister asked, “How did my recitation differ from that of the great President?”  The old man said, “Abe put his hands out over the people like a benediction and said, ‘That the government of the people, by the people and for the people, should not perish from the earth.’  You got the words right,” the old man said, “but you got the emphasis wrong and you missed the message.  You emphasized government.  Lincoln talked about people.” When government seeks to provide for the just welfare of its citizens, it is doing the work of God.  (Fr. Joseph Pellegrino).

 13) “I love my country but there is a higher authority, God!”
 
Franz Jaggerstatter was born in Austria and was brought up a Catholic. He was an ordinary, unremarkable young man; however, at some stage he suddenly matured. He became very responsible and began to take religion seriously. By this time the Second World War was raging. At thirty-six he was called up to serve Hitler’s army. He refused to join up. “I cannot join because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience.” He said. “But where’s your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?” his friends protested.“ Franz replied, “I love my people and I love my country. But there’s a higher law–God’s law. And God’s law tells me that this war is wrong.” It wasn’t that he wanted to die. He had a lot to live for -- his family and friends. He was arrested and put into prison. Then further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife begged him to reconsider his decision, to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. He felt he was obeying the words of Christ: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday & Holy day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

 14) Is Pat Murray on board?’
 
We all laugh at the reputed story of Pat Murray at the Battle of Trafalgar, whose version of the Battle was as follows: “Lord Nelson came on deck and said ‘Is Pat Murray on board?’ And I said, ‘Here I am, me Lord.’ Then said his lordship, ‘Let the battle proceed.’ And yet, while this was written for a joke, there is more to it than we are apt to think. For had it not been for the Pat Murrays, or John Joneses or Tom Smiths and others who were on hand doing their duty, there would have been no victories for the Nelsons, Wellingtons, Napoleons or Grants, who now live in history as great commanders. When Christians properly discharge  their dues to God and to their government, the country and God’s cause prosper.  (A.W. Graham in More Quotes and Anecdotes; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

15) Spiritual Foundations:
 
The Great Wall of China was a gigantic structure, costing immense expenditure and labour, and when finished it seemed a superb way to gain security; but within a few years of its building it was breached three times by the enemy. Only note, it was breached, not by breaking down the wall but by bribing the gate-keepers. It was the human element that failed; what collapsed was character, proving insufficient the task to make the great structure men had built really work. A like fate awaits all those who, absorbed in political tasks, forget the spiritual foundation. (Quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

16) Give back to God...
 
Theologian Jon Sobrino published a book Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness. A political holiness is what the Church badly needs. I sense that we have too much of “Church Politics” and too little of a “political Church.” There’s politicking present in demands for ecclesiastical appointments, but hardly any interest in burning issues facing society and the Church. The current issue of granting concessions to Dalit-Christians (former untouchables) in India is significant. Is this a political or a religious question? I frame the question differently: “Is there anything which is not political? Or anything which is not religious?” Evidently, everything belongs to God. Let us give back to God even what belongs to Caesar. (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

17) Separation of Church and state:
 
“One nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. A Ten Commandments monument in a local courthouse. A Manger Scene on the town common. “In God we trust on our currency.” What do you think of when you hear those things? For millions of Americans it’s the following: “YOU CAN’T DO THAT, THAT’S A VIOLATION OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE! But is it? Is that true? Is it really unconstitutional to pray or hand out Bibles in school? Is it really wrong for politicians to form their views based on their faith? Is it wrong for the state to give churches “Tax Exempt Status”?Let me get straight to the point and say NO! No, it’s not wrong, no it’s NOT unconstitutional, No this is NOT a violation of the separation of Church and State! But what about all those who say “YES? Yes, it is wrong, yes it is unconstitutional and yes it is a violation!” Three statements to remember: 1) Separation of Church and State does not mean that the Church must stay out of the affairs of government and public life IT MEANS THAT THE STATE IS TO STAY OUT OF THE AFFAIRS OF THE CHURCH! 2) Those who tell you otherwise are either blatantly dishonest or they simply do not know, understand or care about the history of the United States of America! 3) This is an organized attempt primarily being carried out by those who have contempt for Christ, hate the Bible and despise the influence the Church has had on Western Culture and they are literally willing to rewrite history in order to demonize the Christian Church. That being said we can close early and all go home, I mean, what else is there to say? No, this morning we are going to look at what America has believed traditionally and we will also take a look at what the Scriptures say about the role of the Church and government. (Rev. Michael Grant).

18) Tax Day, it is also the day the Titanic was sunk and the day Lincoln was shot.
 
It’s still a long time until April 15th, and I don’t mean to remind you of that prematurely, but did you know that April 15th is not only Income Tax Day? It is also the day the Titanic was sunk and the day Lincoln was shot.  You see, it is just a bad day all the way around! Someone said once, “You may not agree with every department of the government, but you really have to hand it to the IRS.” Another cynic has said, “Death and taxes may always be with us, but at least death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” Arthur Godfrey once said, “I feel honored to pay taxes in America.  The thing is, I could probably feel just as honored for about half the price.” Someone also once said that the Eiffel Tower is the Empire State Building after taxes. Most people don’t enjoy paying taxes.  We just do it.  Well, the people had to pay taxes in Jesus’ time, too.  Even worse, they had to pay them to a government they despised -- Rome. Today’s Gospel is about our duties to God and our nation. (Rev. Edward F. Markquart)

19) Rockefeller started giving to God His due and lived:
 
That was a lesson learned by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. He drove himself hard to be a success.  He became a millionaire by this age of twenty-three and by the age of fifty was the richest man on earth.  Then at fifty-three years of age, Rockefeller developed a serious illness which caused the hair on his head, his eyebrows, and eyelashes to drop off.  Even though he was the world’s only billionaire and could have almost anything on earth he wanted, he could only digest milk and crackers.  He became shrunken like a mummy.  He could not sleep, would not smile, and nothing in life meant much to him at all.  Doctors predicted that within a year he would be dead. One night, however, as Rockefeller struggled to fall asleep he came to grips with his life.  He realized that he could take nothing with him into the next world.  The next day he embarked on a new way of living.  Rather than hoarding his money and possessions, he began to give them away to persons in need.  Establishing the Rockefeller Foundation, he channeled his fortune into hospitals, research, and mission work.  His contributions eventually led to the discovery of penicillin as well as cures for malaria, tuberculosis, and diphtheria. At age 53, Rockefeller was given a year to live.  By learning to live by the principle of giving rather than getting, he altered his life so dramatically that he eventually lived to the ripe old age of ninety-eight. (Rev. Edward F. Markquart)

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4.  From Sermons.com 

a.     A little lad with a quarter

A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?"

The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees are not being honest. They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don't want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus.

The Pharisees were so angry it blinded them. Think for a moment about the ironies here: We know, because we live on this side of the resurrection, that Jesus was God. They thought he was demonic, an agent of Satan. We know that Jesus is the King of kings. They thought he wanted to be the King of Israel. We know that he was the Son of God. They thought he was simply Joseph and Mary's son. We know that Jesus has influenced the world for 2000 years. They thought his influence would end at the cross.
It's a fascinating story. We look at the Pharisees and we shake our heads... 
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 You only get one chance to make a first impression. First impressions form lasting images. The first words and first actions we present to another person resound and resonate throughout the duration of that relationship.  

It is not that we are intentionally standoffish and skittish when presented with a new face. It is more about the unconscious gurgling up of the instinctual "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" response all of us possess. Whether we experience a "first impression" as engaging or annoying, easy-going or energetic, kind-hearted or kind of weird, we default to a "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" mode. We decide whether this encounter is something we choose to face, outface, redface, or, whether we suddenly feel the call of a cup of coffee from across the room. 

Things like books as well as people make "first impressions" too. The "first impression" made by the New Testament is, frankly, not all that great. Understandably the gospels come first, and the first gospel we read is Matthew. The first seventeen verses of his opening chapter, his "first impression," is an endless list of everlasting "begats." Matthew had good theological reasons for opening with a genealogy, but for most of us it is a bit like being forced to watch a video of someone else's family reunion, or walking into a room where everyone is hugging and kissing and you know no-one.   

But if the New Testament were arranged chronologically, the first "book," the first written communication, would be Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, dated around 45 CE. Can you imagine what a different New Testament it would be if the books were in their chronological order of being written, rather than the biographical account of Jesus' life? 

First Thessalonians is the "first impression" of the written testimony of the apostle Paul, whose writings predate those of the gospels... 
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b.     We Are Citizens of This World 

In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, "Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."

It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ's disciples.
 

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Co., Inc.
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c.     Only One Top Priority 

I have heard it argued from both pulpit and pew that Jesus' words "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's" mean that a Christian is duty-bound to love America, right or wrong. I'm sorry, but I cannot agree with that. One Christian writer has said, "The greatest service Christians can render to their country is to become actively concerned about the destiny of the church."

I have also heard it argued that "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" implies a strict separation of church and state, that Jesus is dividing life into two separate and distinct parts - a spiritual part and a secular, or worldly, part. Dedicated and committed Christians have been arguing for this separation for centuries, and we probably won't settle the issue once and for all today. Their argument has been that with these words Jesus is telling us to obey God in the spiritual realm and to obey the government in everything else. Now, that's a nice, neat little division, and it solves many difficult problems. Politics is politics and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet. Let the church take care of its own business and keep their noses out of social and political issues. That would be fine if it worked. You and I both know that it doesn't. Yes, there are obligations we have to the governing authorities, such as paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and obeying civil laws. But as followers of Jesus Christ, our ultimate obligation is to "seek first the kingdom of God," and all other obligations have to have a lower priority. There can only be one top priority.
 

Johnny Dean, Another Tricky Question
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d.     Torn Apart by Legions of Loyalties 

No one seriously denies that we all have legions of loyalties. Sometimes there are too many for our own good. I remember watching a film a few years ago in which a scene opened to show two puppeteers arguing over who would control the strings tied to a marionette on the stage below them. As they argued, one tried to wrest the strings from the other. The result was predictable. The puppet was pulled and thrown this way and that across the stage, as first one puppeteer and then the other pulled the string to an arm or leg, hand or foot.

Our many loyalties and commitments can do the same to us. We may feel that the strings of power and persuasion tied to us need only be tugged a bit, and then we have to move as they direct. The company we work for, the government we live under, the family we belong to, the possessions we own (more so, the one's we're still paying for) - all these things exercise varying degrees of control over our lives. To a large extent they determine how we spend our time, our money, our energy, our being. It isn't rare at all these days for people to be pulled in so many different directions that they jump and jerk across the stage of life, often feeling helplessly out of control.

Our problem is that there are too many Caesars before which we stand accountable. It's impossible to please them all. Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's is more than some folk feel they can handle.

D. Wayne Burkette, Life in Heaven's Kingdom, CSS Publishing Company
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e.     What We the People Demand 

President James Garfield's words from 1877 still ring true. "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature ... if the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." 

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy / Stan Purdum, Sermons for Sundays: After Pentecost (Last Third): Rendering to God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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f.      Committing to Christ 

Tony Campolo, the Philadelphia sociologist, found himself seated beside the Pennsylvania governor at a state prayer breakfast. In the course of conversation the governor said that he was sympathetic toward Christianity but not personally committed. Campolo asked, "Why not?" The governor replied, "Well, to tell you the truth, no one ever invited me to commit." Campolo said, "I'm inviting you." within five minutes that governor had committed his life to Christ.

We have good news that is essential to every human being; it's a matter of their eternal life or death. We may be the only conduits God has to certain persons. We must help him reach them.

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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"I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess." 

Martin Luther
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g.     Historical Background Information: Paying Caesar 

The poll tax mentioned in this passage was levied by the Romans against the Jews beginning in A.D. 6 when Judea became a Roman province. When imposed for the first time, it provoked the rebellion of Judas the Galilean recorded in Acts 5:37 and discussed in more detail below. The Herodians favored the tax, but the Zealots, Pharisees, and people resented it. The Pharisees and the Herodians, though common adversaries in New Testament times on the very issue of rendering obedience and taxes to the Roman Empire, found themselves in common alliance in this instance to trap Christ in His words, trying to impale him on the horns of a serious dilemma. Should the authority of Caesar be recognized and the poll tax be paid to him? If Christ were to have affirmed payment of the poll tax to Caesar, he would no doubt have pleased the Herodians but would have made Himself an even greater enemy of the Pharisees and an enemy of the people who shared popular resentment to the poll tax as an unlawful imposition by a heathen government. If, by contrast, Christ were to have denied that the poll tax be paid, he would have made Himself out to be an enemy of the state and possibly, subject Himself to the charge of sedition. 

David G. Hagopian, Render to All What Is Due Them: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Honoring Civil Authority and Paying Taxes, Part 2. Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 4.
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h.     It Depends On What Is Important to You 

Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, "What an interesting place to hear a cricket." 

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"
"No, I'm sure of it," his friend said, "I heard a cricket."
"That's crazy," said his friend. 

The man, who thought he had heard a cricket, listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have superhuman ears!"

"No," said the man who heard the cricket. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."
"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."
"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the man who heard the cricket. "It all depends on what's important to you."
In the end the Pharisees heard from Jesus what they were listening for. 

Keenan Kelsey, Making Choices
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i.      False Dichotomies 

Let me ask you a few questions that I am sure you can answer:

 Did you put on shoes this morning, or did you come to church in a car?
Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or don't you like football?
Are you Lutheran, or do you live in America?
Will you obey God, or will you pay taxes to Caesar?

Welcome to the world of false dichotomies-thing that are wrongly set against each other, "either/or"s that really aren't. Can you wear shoes and come to church in a car? Can you eat cereal and enjoy football? Can you be Lutheran and live in America?...