“Then [Jesus] said to [the Pharisees], ‘Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Matthew 22:21, NRSVue)
I’m always amused by those who consider themselves “self-made” with a history of “picking themselves up by the bootstraps.” My amusement arises from the myth of the self-made person. It’s a myth because God did not design us to exist independently, and those who think they don’t need anybody else’s help are delusional. We start our lives dependent on others, and despite the drive toward independence, we never really achieve it.
I drove to work today on a road I did not build, paid for partially by my tax dollars, but there weren’t enough of my dollars to build the whole thing, so other people had to contribute, too. I drove in a car that I did not make, and it ran on gasoline produced from crude oil I did not drill for or refine. The good news is that I came to work wearing clothes; however, I did not grow the cotton or shear the sheep to get the wool that was woven into the material used to make my clothes, nor did I design the pattern, piece the fabric together, or sew a single stitch to make my beautiful blue gingham shirt or my wool trousers. You get the picture. I needed thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands of others—to get to work today. That doesn’t sound like a self-made man.
God gets top billing in sorting out who helps us as human beings. Our families come in a close second. As Americans, the government also contributes significantly to our lives. Jesus recognized this when the Herodians (who were in cahoots with the Romans) and the Pharisees (who distrusted everything associated with Rome) asked Jesus about paying taxes to the empire. They put Jesus in a tough spot because the Herodians were “all in” on paying taxes, and the Pharisees resented paying anything at all to the empire. These religious leaders thought they had Jesus over a barrel—until he out-foxed the old foxes. He asked whose image was on the coins Rome collected as taxes, to which they replied it was an image of Caesar. Jesus, pointing out the obvious, reckoned that if Caesar’s image was on it, it must belong to Caesar, so give Caesar what is his.
What I wish Jesus had done after this would have been for him to call attention to a man or a woman in the crowd and then ask, “Whose image is on this person?” Since God made all human beings in his image, the answer would be “God’s image.” Then Jesus could have said, “Now, give God what belongs to God.” Caesar can only get his image on a limited number of things; however, as the Supreme Creator, God has planted his image on every person. We belong to God; therefore, we can offer God the very best of who we are out of gratitude for all he has done for us.
Two weeks ago, I preached about the generosity of God in creation, relationships, and his love for us. This week, I’m preaching how an awareness of all that God has done for us creates grateful hearts that long to give back to God. If we think we’re self-made, we aren’t very appreciative and resent giving. If we know we are made in the image of God and designed to live in connection with one another, gratitude becomes our nature, and generosity is the outcome. Gratitude and generosity are the keys to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Come on Sunday to learn more about these two significant attributes.
I hope to see you at worship, and I hope you will bring your friends as we explore moving closer to the life we’ve always wanted!