Jesus and Taxes Matthew 22:15-22

Does anybody really enjoy paying taxes? As mid-April approaches, do any of us celebrate writing out a check to send off to the treasury? Are any of us filled with joy as another tax form needs to be filled out? Taxes are a part of life. So when Jesus is asked about paying taxes in the reading, the answer he gives is unexpected because he flips the narrative. Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap Jesus in a political trap. In the end, Jesus exposes them for their own hypocrisy.

Pharisees and Herodians were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Pharisees were against the Roman occupation and paying taxes was the equivalent of being considered a traitor. Herodians, as the name suggests, supported Herod who served at the leisure of Rome. So lets say a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican join forces to take someone down politically. Yeah, you get the picture. Something is about to happen and it doesn’t pass the smell test. A trap was being set.

Jesus was asked about the legality of paying taxes to Rome. If he said, “yes,” Jesus would be charged with betraying Israel and God. If he said, “no,” Jesus would be charged with sedition against Rome. How was Jesus going to respond? He trapped them in their hypocrisy.

Jesus asked for a coin. They had one readily available engraved with the image of the emperor. Owning the coin proved that they were fully involved with the economic realities of living in the Roman empire. Therefore, paying taxes was acceptable. However, God’s authority has a moral claim over our lives that cannot be negated by Rome. The answer Jesus gave was not the simple “yes” or “no” that they were hoping to hear and serve their political agenda. Life as a person of faith in this world is far more complicated than we imagine.

We live in a time where there is confusion over God and country. Do we merge the two together or keep them strictly separate? If we aren’t careful, then we are living out what the Pharisees and Herodians were trying to do with Jesus when he flipped the trap on them saying,

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:21

There is a political claim that is made upon us because we live in this world. Yet, there is a claim that God has placed upon us as well. If we try to merge the two, we end up making the country into an idol. If we try to separate them, then one is chosen at the expense of the other. The answer Jesus gave about taxes seems to leave us in tension between the two.

The life of faith is not an easy one – nothing shocking here. So we are left with the great challenge of discernment. Where does the claim of politics begin and end? Where does God’s claim (as the One who gave us life) fit in? How we draw the lines is the way faith is lived.


A Scandalous God Matthew 22:1-14

Have you ever thought of the Gospel as something that is scandalous? Normally, we call the Gospel “Good News.” It is because of what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection. The Gospel is for us, salvation. So how can something that is so good for us be a scandal? It is scandalous for us to hear because God doesn’t follow our understanding of value, worth or importance. Instead, the Gospel destroys our false claims.

A king is throwing a wedding party (a symbol for salvation) for his son. Nobody responds. A second invitation is sent out but some of the invited guests were too busy with the farm or their business. They were too busy doing the things which we define as bestowing worth to a person. The king’s invitation is what graciously declared their importance in the kingdom but they refused. The other invited guests abused and killed the king’s messengers. They violently snubbed the king’s gracious invite. So what does a king do to those who snub his kindness? Naturally, he destroys them.

There needs to be a word of caution given here. If we aren’t careful, we end up taking one of Jesus’ parables about God’s kingdom and make them about supporting our claims for worthiness and power. The actions of the king can be used to justify violence (in God’s name) and anti-Semitic beliefs. Jesus was using this parable to illustrate the nature of God’s kingdom. He wasn’t reducing God to a tyrannical human king seeking vengeance for being snubbed.

Since none of the first invitees were willing to attend the party, the king sent out more servants to invite who ever they could find, good or bad. In the end, these folk had a valued place in the kingdom which exceeded those busy with farm, business or direct opposition could never attain. The kingdom of God is about and will always be about grace.

A curious point was made about a guest present at the party without a wedding robe. When asked, the guest gave no answer to why they were at the party and were then thrown out. The person didn’t comprehend the kindness and grace given by the king’s invitation.

So what do we do with this parable? We live in a crucial time when we are divided and the value of human worth is being debated. Black Lives Matter, immigration policy, suburb vs. inner city, rich vs. poor are all being played out as to who is worthy and who is not to be a part of this country and world. The violence being lived out today and as shown in the parable is how we choose to define our own value and worth.

Jesus told this parable as a way of describing the kingdom of God. We are important not because of our wealth or stubborn ideology. Value in the kingdom of God comes by God’s invitation. The invitation is sent out to all people. Therefore, all are the same.

So will we finally get this through our heads? Will we abandon our efforts to define ourselves by tyrannical force? Are we really going to let ourselves be on the outside looking in at the salvation God has invited us to in Christ? Or, are we going to let God be the one who defines us by that gracious and wonderful invitation to salvation?


Actions Not Words Matthew 21:23-32

I think that we have all heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.” Most likely we have more than heard the phrase, the words have impacted us directly. Who hasn’t been disappointed when promises have gone unfulfilled? We have all been burned at one time or another when trusting in words that have left us betrayed. Every election cycle words are spoken of peace, security, justice, unity. Yet, the disunity, fear, anger and corruption continue. The challenge from the reading for those of us who call upon Jesus is to do more than say words but to repent and do the actions that Jesus did and lived.

Chief priest and elders of the people were demanding to know by whose or what authority Jesus overturned the money changing tables and called the Temple a “den of robbers.” Jesus would only respond to them if they decided on John the Baptist’s authority for calling the people to repent and prepare for the coming reign of God. Was it of human or Divine authority? After a brief discussion, they chose the politically astute answer – they punted. The chief priests and elders may have had leadership roles but they were not “of” the people. They served by Roman permission and lived lives of privilege that the people couldn’t relate. Sure they spoke the words from God but their actions were empty.

Jesus then challenged them with a parable of a father who sent his two sons out to work in the fields. One said, “no” but later went. The other said, “yes” but never showed up. Which did the will of the father? The answer was obvious. Jesus then gave the stinging rebuttal that prostitutes and tax collectors would proceed them into the kingdom of heaven. Tax collectors took in the revenue to help finance the Roman occupation and so they were considered traitors. Prostitutes and traitors would enter the kingdom of heaven first. Why? They heeded John the Baptist’s words and changed their lives to welcome the reign of God. Actions the chief priests and elders of the people wouldn’t take.

So will we be people of words only? Or, will we take the risk to change the lives we live to make those words come alive? This is the challenge for those of us who call upon Jesus. Will we simply say the words or will we personally change to follow what he did and lived?


Reconciliation in a Call Out Culture Matthew 18:15-20

The reading is a tough one to comment on. The reason isn’t because of some deep theological analysis. The reason is because of its simplicity. Jesus is very straight forward regarding the importance of seeking reconciliation and its implications in the kingdom of heaven. His words (if we are willing to take them seriously) put a mirror up for us to take a look at ourselves. The reflection is not pretty. This is why the reading is tough.

We live in a “Call Out” culture. If someone disagrees, we slam them. We attack them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Peaceful protests are being met with armed groups (both on the right and the left) to enforce their version of law and order. Division and appealing to your base may be a successful strategy in human politics. However, this political approach runs in direct contradiction to what Jesus is teaching. What Jesus is showing us is a culture that doesn’t call each other out but calls one another into relationship.

“If another member of the church sins against you…

Matthew 18:15

This is how Jesus’ teaching began. What should we do when we are offended? First of all, we don’t ignore it and allow the offence to fester. Instead, first go to the person (in private) and resolve the issue. If this doesn’t work (or is safe to do) then pursue the other channels available. The goal is to restore the relationship if at all possible. After all, what is life in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God supposed to be like? A life bound by our sins, anger and violence? Or, a life where there is freedom to live with each other in peace? Furthermore, if we come together with the purpose to reconcile as Jesus taught, then he promises to be present. If we pray for God’s blessing in this work, then the Father will work for it to happen in his kingdom.

Now some may argue that Jesus was referring to the church and how it should resolve conflicts. As is usually the case, Jesus won’t allow us to hide behind self imposed boundaries.

…if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector…

Matthew 18:17

How did Jesus treat the Gentile and tax collector? He extended the grace of God to bring healing and acceptance to those sinful Gentiles. He enjoyed the company of tax collectors and dined with them. Jesus carried the work of reconciling to all, insiders and outsiders alike.

Jesus’ words today are tough. They hold up a mirror for us to examine just how far we have moved from the ways of God. Yet, his words provide an opportunity for grace to come. Imagine what life could be if…

-instead of grabbing a gun to enforce our version of law and order, we sought to resolve the grievances behind the protest

-instead of dividing the land for personal and political gain, we sought to unite and work toward the benefit of all

-instead of calling people out because they disagree, we call them into relationship.

Jesus invites us to live a different way that brings grace and healing to everyone. This new way is defined by the kingdom of heaven. This new way is going to be tough but we have his promised presence. Peace and blessing are possible in a “Call Out” world.


What Is Life Worth? Matthew 16:21-28

The struggle for the worth of human life is going on before our eyes. Opponents to abortion emphasize the value of the unborn. Black Lives Matter seeks justice for lives that have been denied worth. The immigrant poor are labelled to deny their human dignity and rights. The list goes on and on. It seems the more the struggle goes on to lift up the value of life, the more brutal the opposition works to strip it all away.

So what is your life worth? You knew this question was going to come. The answer comes quickly in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Yet we are fast to forget this truth for ourselves and for others. Our actions show how easily we sell out life for the cheap.

Jesus said in the reading from Matthew,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matthew 16: 24-26

What is life worth? It is priceless. No amount of money is going to buy back a life that has been forfeited on the cheap. So remember that your life has value. This is what Jesus is telling us and so where we invest our lives is critical. The reality is that we have no choice. We are either giving ourselves over to the world or to being a follower of Jesus. Only one will give value to life that God intends for all peoples (creation too).

Jesus has just told the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer, be killed and raised up to life on the third day. Peter (who had correctly named Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God) challenged Jesus saying that this must never happen. Jesus’ response was to call Peter’s words satanic. Obviously Peter didn’t fully grasp the consequences and purpose for which Jesus was speaking (this understanding would come later). However, Peter’s response showed where his life was currently invested. His life was focused on the traditions and the power structures which rewarded a few and denied others their value. This is why Peter’s response was called from Satan. His words spoke to a way of life that opposed what Jesus taught, did, died and was raised to accomplish.

Remember that your life is priceless. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection prove that value. So where are you going to put that valuable gift of life that God has given to you? Will you sell out on the cheap for traditions, power structures and labels that reward the few while taking away the value and dignity of others? Or, will you give your life over to a life defined by Jesus?

The fight to define the value of life is going on in protests on the street and over the Internet. The question that each of us has no option but to answer is this, “What is life worth?”


Allegiance to Jesus Matthew 16:13-20

The politics of the election are starting to really heat up. What this means in practice, is that the name of Jesus is getting tossed about by those claiming to have the “correct” defining statement of his identity. Some claim to have the special insight as to which political party Jesus is present and where he is absent. Political mudslinging tries to label the opposition as against God or hurting God. Yes, politics is heating up and Jesus is being dragged into the middle of it to serve our purposes.

So the reading from Matthew is fitting for these days. Jesus asked the disciples what others were saying about him. The response was John the Baptist or a prophet. Then Jesus personalized the question to what the disciples had to say. Peter announced, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus didn’t praise Peter for coming up with the answer but the Father for revealing this to Peter. The reading ends with Jesus giving strict orders for this revelation to be kept quiet which seems strange. Why? Peter had the correct title but there was much more for him and the other disciples to learn. You see, Jesus’ question wasn’t a test to get the answers right. This was about allegiance to Jesus.

Caesarea Philippi was a town that was near a cave which housed a spring feeding the Jordan River. The cave had also served as a place where the Greek god, Pan had been worshipped. Herod had built a temple to honor Caesar Augustus there. At the time Matthew was written, Roman soldiers had destroyed the great temple in Jerusalem. Caesarea Philippi was now the administrative center for Philip the tetrarch (Herod’s son). This was a reality not ignored by Matthew’s readers. So when Jesus asked about what was being said of him, he was really asking about allegiance…which God do you worship…what leaders do you revere…to what political power do you surrender your allegiance.

Peter had the right answer but not the understanding of what his response meant for life. If your allegiance is to Jesus, then you do the things he did. Jesus set people free as he announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He set people free from their illness. He celebrated with those despised “sinners.” He received the outcast and unwanted. He was and continues to be the way death’s power is destroyed.

Peter and the disciples had still much to learn about Jesus and following him. The church today still struggles in the same way. Jesus gave the amazing job description that is concerned with setting people free for the kingdom of heaven. What we do will either set people free or keep them in bondage. In following Jesus are we keeping people in bondage to ideology, race, division, fear, hatred, poverty, sickness? Or, are we working for people to be set free for the kingdom of heaven?

Another election is drawing near, meaning those seeking office are tripping over each other in the race to say who Jesus is to serve their purposes. Jesus is asking who we say he is to serve his purposes for the kingdom of heaven. Who do we worship…who will we give honor and praise…what power will we in the end serve? The difference is as big as freedom and bondage. How will we live out our answer to Jesus’ question?


Walking On The Water Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus was taking some of what could be called, “Personal time.” Who would blame him? He had been busy teaching. Crowds surrounded him. His home town folk rejected him. The news of John the Baptist being beheaded had just come. So Jesus sent the disciples ahead in a boat while he spent the night in prayer.

I think we can identify with Jesus. The daily news simply can wear a person down. Covid-19 continues to spread and death totals rise. Leadership seems more interested in maintaining their base than coming together to address the issues. Job losses. Rent coming due with not enough in the bank account. Yes, personal time for prayer would do us all some good. While we might identify with Jesus, we are far more like the disciples in the boat. They had spent all night rowing against a strong headwind.

If you have ever been in a boat on a windswept lake, you know that conditions on the water get rough quickly. Getting to shore fast is important for safety. The water can become very chaotic which describes well how the world is functioning right now. In Scripture, water represented chaos. Scripture also reminds us that the Spirit hovered over the waters and it was from there that a beautiful and life giving creation came into being. Jesus came walking to them over the water, over the chaos of the world. When Jesus got into the boat, the wind stopped and they worshipped him “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter wanted to join Jesus walking on the water. The first steps went fine but at the sight of the swirling water Peter started to sink with calls for Jesus to save him. On our own we are no match for the chaos. On our own we are overwhelmed. Jesus wasn’t a ghost as they first thought but the Son of God in flesh and bone come to save us. Even the disorder of an unjust court and a hasty crucifixion couldn’t stop the One who brings life out of a watery and formless void. The resurrection is God’s response to the chaos we cannot control.

Jesus’ example of time away for prayer is good for us to follow, especially now. Hear the words that Jesus said when they first saw him walking above the watery chaos, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”


Treasures Both New And Old Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I feel as though all that there is to write about these days is division. I’m not going to list the ways. I’ll let you do that for yourselves. We all know that division is hurting this world. Division is hurting us individually whether we are willing to recognize it or not. The way to describe what is going on might be considered archaic but it is the best we have available. Human sin is seen in our division. Sin is our rebellion against the reign of God and we are paying a heavy price for it.

Jesus is telling about the kingdom of heaven as present and working within the world around us. He tells that it is like a mustard seed which starts small but grows large enough to provide a home for the birds…like yeast that infuses throughout the flour to make the dough…like a valuable surprise that catches us off guard bringing joy…like a treasure that is worth everything we have. Jesus also described the kingdom of heaven like a fishing net that catches all the fish which are later separated much like what will happen at the end of this age when what is wicked is divided from what is righteous. Notice, the angels are the ones doing the sorting not us. This serves as a reminder to us too confident in our divisions and not taking an honest look at ourselves. Is the kingdom of heaven truly a place of joy where all may find a home in its branches?

Looking at the reign of God (kingdom of heaven), the Scriptures tell us of God calling a formless void into an amazing creation where life can multiply and flourish. A creation described as being very good. We are told of a God taking an enslaved group of people and bringing them through an exodus into freedom. Prophets spoke with boldness to the injustice of the leaders against the poor and weak of society. We are told of God in the person of Jesus willing to die on a cross so this good creation could be made new through the resurrection. This is an old story but a treasure because of the love it expresses. Unfortunately, Scripture often gets tossed around haphazardly to support our divisions, our sin. However, if like a well trained teacher about the kingdom of heaven, the Scripture can be used for the treasure that it is to inspire hope in a future redeemed in Christ under the kingdom of heaven’s umbrella.

We all are under the oppressive weight of division and the hurt it causes. Yet Jesus calls our attention to the kingdom of heaven. The reign of God where chaos gives way to life granting creation…the domination of slavery gives way to freedom…death surrenders to the resurrection of Christ through whom all things are being made new. The kingdom of heaven really is a treasure that is both old and new.


Babies, Bath Water and Weeds Matthew 13:24-43

I have always heard the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Maybe you have too? A couple years ago, I learned from where it was derived. Years ago when getting water wasn’t as easy as turning the faucet handle, the family would use the same water on bath night. Yuck!! The baby was the last to get washed. So when the dirty water was tossed out the door, you get the idea. Today we use the phrase to highlight the importance of not tossing aside what is valuable when discarding the unwanted.

I think this relates to the parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to a farmer planting wheat. Good seed was used but weeds (planted by the enemy) came up with the wheat. The workers wanted to pull out the weeds but the the farmer stopped them. In the hurry to yank out the weeds, wheat would be pulled out as well. Better to wait when the harvest comes and then sort the weeds out.

We have a lot to learn from Jesus’ parable. We are divided as a people. We argue (and much worse) over something as simple as the wearing of masks. The thought of labelling “those people” as a bunch of “weeds” could be a mild characterization of what we really think about them. This is what Jesus was warning about because of the damage and harm that could be done. We need to understand our place.

Jesus is the farmer planting the good seed. The world is the field. The angels do the sorting at harvest time. Notice, we don’t do the sorting, the judging or the reaping. Our judgment is too tainted by prejudice. Our evaluations are insufficient for the purpose. The risk of harming each other is too high. Those who a part of the kingdom of heaven are simply too valuable to be tossed aside in our rush for human standards for righteousness.

Here the good news gets to be heard. We aren’t judged by others but in the mercy of Christ. Such mercy comes in a love expressed on a cross. This kind of mercy allows life to grow in the world even among the weeds.

The world is divided and we are a part of the problem. Yet with the mercy of Christ, the kingdom of heaven does bring life to its fullest. Remember we live by grace. Something for us all to be thankful. So the next time one of those “weeds” are spotted keep in mind the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”


A Good Story Matthew 13:1-23

We all know a good story when we hear it. The story line connects to a part of life that we can identity with in our own lives. A good story teller knows how to use humour, elicit emotions, draw on our fears or lift up our hopes. A story that connects with our lives is one that will, most likely, stay with us for a while. So in the reading, Jesus is telling about his use of parables. A parable means to bring along side for the use of comparison. A parable can serve to be a good story since it comes along side and connects with life. However a story that compares well to life can just as easily draw us in or if it gets a little too close, may repel instead. The parables Jesus told did both.

The parable of the sower is well known. A sower spreads seed on a variety of soils with mixed results. The seed that fell on poor, rocky soil produced nothing but the seed that fell on good soil produced a tremendous crop. Any gardener or farmer knows that good soil has a much better chance of producing a great harvest. There is nothing surprising here, except for what the parable does as it comes along side our lives, it exposes us. This is precisely why Jesus used parables in response to the disciples’ question.

The grace of God is everywhere. It fills all of creation with life. Jesus showed how that grace enhances life in his compassion, empathy, care for the sick, invitation to the outcast, concern for those walked on by others. His resurrection shows God is a God of life and not death. The love of God is like seed ready to bring life to its fullest. Yet the seed is not always received that way. The question is “Why?”

Some people are simply hard as a rock and the concept of grace just won’t easily take root. Some people have been so beat down that like a well worn path, a seed will have a hard time finding a crack in the hard crust for life to put down roots. Some people like the idea of grace and want more of it but they get absorbed into the life offered by the world. Some people are where life in the kingdom of heaven flourishes.

We all know what a good story is when we hear it by how it compares to life. Parables are like a good story in that they come along side and connect our lives with life in the kingdom of heaven. The parables of Jesus expose our hardness. They can also plant a seed which will bring astounding results produced by the grace of God. As Jesus told the disciples, “He who has ears, let him hear.”