The ornamented vault of the entry vestibule Trinity Church.

Five Ways Into Sunday’s Scripture: All Belongs to God

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So, they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Matthew 22:15–22 

The scene in this week’s Gospel reading is high drama worthy of a favorite streaming series. The Pharisees — religious leaders with little civic power — collaborate with the Herodians who support the ruler of the land. They don’t agree on much, but they agree on this: Jesus is trouble. So, they set the trap.

They enter with flattery (“We know you are sincere, speak truth, are impartial”) and then move to a trick question (“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?”). If Jesus says yes, his followers will hate him for siding with the empire. If he says no, he risks being arrested for sedition against that same empire.

The answer is deep, simple, and profound: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

But doesn’t everything belong to God? As the psalmist says, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). God made the world and created us in God’s image. We, in turn, have created political structures and currency — which can be used for good or not. But Jesus tells us we must always put God first, in every decision we make, in how we use our resources and the resources of the earth.

In a culture steeped in consumerism and division, this is a difficult challenge. We desire things we think will make our lives better and protect us from people we fear or disagree with. In the face of this challenge, what if we act as if everyone and everything is God’s? Everything we have, resources we use, people we love or abhor, are all created by God.

Jesus teaches this existential fact: This all belongs to God. If we can ground ourselves in this reality, we can participate more completely in God’s reign, where each person has enough and knows they are loved by God.

—Ruth Frey

In a commentary on this week’s reading, New Testament expert Raj Nadella notes, “The question in Matthew 22 about paying taxes was not just a political question. It was also a moral and theological question.”

Artist and minister Jan Richardson encourages us to consider the loaded, two-sided questions we’re being asked, or asking ourselves, and to cultivate an openness to the unexpected ways God might answer them.

Visual Art
Nineteenth-century American artist Lawrence W. Ladd depicts Christ and the Pharisees

Meditate with composer Christopher Orczy’s immersive piece “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In his poem “i thank You God for most this amazing,” E. E. Cummings offers a lens into the joy that comes from seeing God as the source of all things. 

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