Jesus and the Pharisees had something of a troubled relationship: they just don’t seem to be able to get him – to understand what he is saying or why. All they can do is to try and catch him out, to find a way to entrap him. In this morning’s gospel they must think that they have finally got him on the horns of a dilemma – they ask him the question ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ If he says ‘no’ then he’s allied himself with zealots, religious extremists, he has made a provocative political statement for which he can be denounced, if he says ‘yes’ then they can write him off as a collaborator, he is not one of us – he is not a real prophet, a true son of Israel. All they are interested in is understanding what he says in political terms. Their opening pleasantries ring hollow, they don’t mean what they say; they are just trying to butter him up with empty flattery.
He turns the tables on them by asking them to show him a coin used to pay the tax, so that he can ask ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answer ‘Caesar’s’ allowing him to say ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s’. Whereas they come filled with malice, with a desire to catch him out, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to show them the proper order of things: pay your taxes but give God what is owed to him – a heart filled with love, love of God and of each other, a life which proclaims this love in the service of others and through the worship of Almighty God. This is where real power lies, this is the truly subversive aspect of Jesus’ teaching, which he proclaims in the Temple, in the heart of the religious establishment – to show them how to live, and live life to the full.
In the power of the Holy Spirit the Truth can be proclaimed, the truth which sets us free from the ways of the world, free to love and serve God. This freedom can be seen in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul writes. Rather than worshipping idols, they serve the living and true God, they are an example to Christians of how to live. Their lives proclaim the truth which they serve. This is the dark truth of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, these are the hidden riches.
As opposed to either the collaboration of the Herodians or the rigorist harshness of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims the freedom and love of the Kingdom of God. It is a place of welcome – the image is that of the wedding feast to which all people are invited. People are too busy or preoccupied to come; others just don’t want to be invited: they mistreat the people who invite them. This does not stop the invitation being offered to all, it still is. It is why we are here today, so that we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament, so that we can be strengthened in love and in faith, to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God, to be an example to others to draw them in to the loving embrace of God – to be healed and restored by Him.
We see this love and healing most fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the costly love in action which restores our relationship with God and each other. Thanks to this we are here today to be restored and renewed, to be built up in love together, it is a reality in our lives.
Let us come to him, to be healed and renewed, strengthened, built up in love.