Year A, Proper 24, October 18, 2020

Getting God’s Perspective

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

The Pharisees gather around Jesus and try to test him. They try to trick him into saying something that would be punishable by the law….So they ask him, “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?”

Jesus immediately asks them, “Why are you putting me to the test?”

Do you ever put God to the test?

Our immediate response might be to say, “no. never.” But think about what it means to put God to the test… Here the pharisees acknowledge Jesus’ character, his values and then ask how those values line up with real life.

The Pharisees tell Jesus – We know that you teach the way of God and do not show partiality to people, so does that mean we should not be partial to the emperor? We know you put God above all things, so does that mean we don’t have to pay taxes?

The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into saying that we do not need to pay taxes and even just saying that we do not need to pay taxes would have been unlawful at the time and would have gotten Jesus thrown in jail…

And unlike the Pharisees, we do not in our prayers try to trap Jesus into saying something that would break American law and get him thrown in jail, that would be rather absurd since Jesus cannot of course be throw in jail, but I think we do from time to time test Jesus… we do question Jesus… we do look at his character and wonder how those would work in the real world.

God, I know you are a healer, so why are you allowing COVID?

God, I know you are a provider, so why are people starving in the world?

I don’t think we would be human if we never asked God why. Even Jesus on the cross asks God, “Why?” God you are loving and compassionate, slow to anger. God you are Emmanuel, God with us, “So Why God have you forsaken me” on this cross. This is Jesus’ most human moment. God, Father, Abba, Dad I know who you are and it really does not seem like you are being who you are right now.  You are good, this does not seem like a Good Friday, what is happening?

Do you ever put God to the test?

Jesus sees through Pharisees plot to trap him and asks for a coin. He asks them whose face is on the coin and looking at the coin they respond, “the emperor’s face is on the coin.”

Then Jesus utters these now famous words, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees walk away amazed, because his response is so very wise.

“This tiny thing, this piece of metal you all have decided is worth so much of your time and effort, this little round object with the emperor’s face on it, sure give that to the emperor if he wants it so badly… but remember, the metal, the emperor, you, in fact everything you see and know to be true would not exist if it were not for God. So… get some perspective, get God’s perspective.”

I’ve been stressed this Fall with remote schooling two kids simultaneously and at the same time working at jobs that require my full attention, but then I listen to my patients who are also mothers trying to navigate cancer care and a terminal diagnosis on top of remote learning and working and I wonder what on earth am I stressed about… I said to a good friend of mine, “When I listen to my patients, I think man, my problems are not real. I need to get some perspective!”

She wisely though reminded me, “well just because you are healthy, doesn’t mean your problems aren’t real.”

We all put God to the test at some point or another in our lives. It is part of being human to look up at the sky and wonder why? Why God?

God, I know you are God Emmanuel, God with us, so why do I feel so lonely?

God, I know you are the God of peace, so why is there so violence and discord in our nation?

We all in fact test God at one point or another and the Pharisees here were doing the same thing… testing Jesus..

Notice though how Jesus responds to the Pharisees. He does not tell them to get “some perspective,” he tells them to get God’s perspective.

When we are faced with these challenges in life, when we put God to the test and ask these big existential questions, we often soothe ourselves by thinking about everyone else who has it worse than we do. Well my problems aren’t so bad, at least I’m healthy. Well yes, we must be grateful for our health… but Jesus here is not telling us to “get some perspective,” he is telling us to “get God’s perspective.” He doesn’t answer the Pharisees by telling them that they have so much money and they should be grateful for all the money that they have and should notice how others do not have as much and in fact the emperor is really only asking for a little bit of money to help make the empire run.

He is not telling us to get some perspective, he is telling us to get God’s perspective.

When you find yourself testing God, asking God, wondering about God, Jesus encourages us today to take a giant step back and ask for God’s perspective.

In this case, he tells the pharisees that we can give the emperor that piece of metal with his face on it, but everything belongs to God. The answer here is brilliant and simple… Jesus makes it easy for us and the Pharisees to see God’s perspective.

But when we test God, when we question God in our lives, it may be harder to see God’s perspective.

There may be some questions that you have that you never understand and really can’t get God’s perspective on. I had a caregiver this week tell me that she always believed that there is a reason for everything, but she can’t find a reason for this. And please here me, this is not “there is a reason for everything sermon”.

Jesus does not tell the Pharisees, “Well, you know there is a reason for everything.” He says, everything belongs to God. We must give everything to God. We are in God’s hands.

Getting God’s perspective does not mean finding a reason for everything. It means that we must in all things remember that everything belongs to God.

When we face those big questions in life, Jesus is inviting us to take a giant step back and look for God’s perspective, Jesus is inviting us to remember that everything we see, touch, taste, hear, our very being, everything belongs to God.

So in the week ahead, I encourage you to bring your questions, your tests to God.

Jesus may respond clearly and simply in prayer as he did with the Pharisees, but if the question remains unclear, remember the simplest truth, everything belongs to God, you belong to God, they belong to God, everything belongs to God.