Read Matthew 22:1-22.
If you are using the resource from The Fifty Day Bible Challenge with me, then I hope you will note the commentary from Bishop James about what Matthew does to Jesus' parables. Luke's guests offer plausible excuses. And Luke doesn't have some poor guy without a wedding garment (who had time to dress?) get dragged out into the outer darkness! Clearly something else is going on here, as Bishop James points out. The point is about the urgency of the Kingdom of God and our need to be prepared. OK. Enough on that, then.
The part of today's reading that captures my imagination, however, and is quite realistic - is the ratcheting up of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees who are now "plotting to entrap him." Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. This context is important for what follows, which is not an Op-Ed piece on the separation of church and state. Jesus again must be shrewd/cunning/street smart when asked about whether or not it's lawful to pay taxes because it is, of course, a set up. They are trying to entrap him.
So what he does is brilliant. He asks them for a coin - some have noted that this in itself exposes their hypocrisy since they aren't supposed to have such coins in the temple. But the teaching itself, even beyond this difficult context, raises huge questions for us: give the emperor what belongs to the emperor. Give to God what belongs to God.
This text is so often misunderstood and misconstrued. But their reaction, I think, reveals how brilliant this response is. They were amazed. And they went away. They have failed in their stated mission.
What of ours belongs to the powers of this world? What of ours belongs to God? We may have the heads of former presidents on our coins and bills - yet we proclaim when we place our gifts on the altar that "all things come of thee, O Lord - and of thine own have we given thee." The gifts we use to earn our bread - where do they come from?
If we believe that all we are, and all we have, comes from God - then how does the true disciple answer this question? What belongs to the empire - and what belongs to God?
I am writing this post on the Fourth of July - Independence Day. How do we honor and celebrate the day, and our pride of nation - without allowing that to lapse into idolatrous nationalism?