The Ultimate Test

A Christian Perspective

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The Ultimate Test
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About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Sometimes it seems that life is a long series of tests. I remember a friend had a series of challenges: two close relatives died within a short time, his marriage and job disappeared. A cancer diagnosis was the last straw.

“Well, I guess all that was a preparation for this,” he thought. But a friend said, “maybe this is just a test for something worse.”

Though his friend might not have been very tactful, in some respects all of life can seem like a test.

Jesus knows this better than we do. Not only does he have deep compassion for the suffering of others, but he walks around with his own built in testers following him. Matthew 22.15-22

The Pharisees and the Herodians are not usually so chummy. We don’t know who the Herodians are — allies of Rome, obviously since they are followers of Herod.

The Pharisees are trying to keep outside influence from affecting the Jewish community so these folk are NOT friends.

But Pilot loses his job if he can’t collect taxes or has an uprising so he’ll replace the Pharisees and Herodians if they can’t control their people.

So they come together. ‘The enemy of my enemy is sometimes my friend’ — we can see this reality happening right now in the shifting of loyalties in the wake of ISIS.

They butter him up with flattery and then the zinger: “should we pay taxes to Caesar?”

We have heard his response to all kinds of tests they put him. But this particular test is fraught with danger.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

There is no safe answer.

The head tax had been imposed by Rome at the time of its conquest. Each year every person had to pay the equivalent of a labourer’s daily wage for the privilege of being a subject of the Roman Empire and of supporting the cost of Rome’s occupation. To add insult to injury, the tax had to be paid with a Roman coin, the denarius, which had the image of the emperor stamped on one side and an inscription on the other: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, most high priest.”

So if Jesus answered, ‘No!’ he would be in deep trouble with Rome.

It’s helpful to know that this happened on Tuesday of a week in which Jesus would be betrayed on Thursday and hung on a cross on Friday. So this might have been the question that would turn the tables on Jesus, that would cause the people to rise up against him.

If he answered ‘yes’ to this unpopular tax, his followers would be outraged.

But Jesus asks them a question: Whose image and inscription does the coin bear? When they reply, “The emperor’s,” Jesus declares, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” At first it seems as if Jesus has agreed with those who collaborate with Rome, but in the next breath he adds what no truly religious person can object to: “and to God the things that are God’s.”

The image of the emperor is on the coin. What image is on us? Human beings are made in the image of God, so we belong to God.

Jesus is not so concerned with money — he is more concerned with allegiance — human life belongs to God — all of it.

Jesus recognizes how difficult this is.

We are caught in the dilemma between giving your life to God, but then finding that the clothes on your back are made under circumstances that horrify you.

‘Give to God the things that are God’s.’

Because we belong to Jesus Christ, how do we think about money? material things? How do we figure out what is God’s and what is the world’s?

Everything belongs to God — but even so, we have to pay taxes.

These relationships we have with the world and with God are ambiguous — how do we participate in the world’s systems without giving our allegiance to them?

We can’t easily separate our religious and political identities.

Trying to live walled off from society is impossible — well it hasn’t worked in the past. We have to try to find a way to live in between the social reality in which we find ourselves and the values we hold as Christians — Jesus recognizes this.

This passage recognizes the ambiguit; it pokes us and asks where is your true allegiance?

The challenge he leaves you with is to discern how to participate in the world without giving away your soul. Where do your loyalties lie?

e.g. How do we decide who to vote for in the upcoming election?

If we see ourselves as made in the image of God, then we will concern ourselves with values rather than issues.

Overheard at an all candidates meeting:

”I’m not looking for a particular plan or opinion. I’m looking for character and judgment.”

Circumstances change plans. Character and judgment, however,are constant.

What does faithfulness look like in light of where I am now?

No easy answer. A lot of Christians think it’s a good idea to have the same opinion about things of the world — how to vote, what position to take on an issue. But I don’t think that is what Jesus did. He struggled with the authorities because they weren’t loyal to God. His allegiance was to God.

We are caught in a bind of irreconcilable, conflicting obligations and duties. That is real life. Jesus recognizes our dilemmas and blesses the struggle.

This story is about testing Jesus but it is also about testing us.

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