March 15, 2020
Village Chapel Presbyterian Church
Dr. Todd R. Wright
This past week I went to a meeting of ministers – some Methodists and Presbyterians, a Lutheran and an Orthodox priest, hosted by a Catholic. We talked about keeping Lent and illness, about stewardship and finding things that are lost … you know, the usual stuff. Then one of the participant brought up a podcast called “Everything is alive”1 which describes itself as “compelling, unscripted interviews, with everyday objects instead of humans. In each episode, a different thing (like a can of cola, a pane of glass, or a balloon) tells us its life story.” I’ll admit is sounded a little strange, but we listened to the interview with a bar of soap and it was funny, and sweet, and, at times, poignant.
So, with that in mind, we are going to try an interview with the coin from today’s passage:
So, let me give you the chance to introduce yourself.
I’m a denarius, a silver coin, stamped with the image of the Emperor Tiberius and the words “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”.
My goodness, that sounds important!
Well I’m kind of a vanity project. No Caesar worth their salt can resist being immortalized on a coin, so every time there is a new Emperor, new coins are made.
So were you used for something special?
I was the standard wage for a day’s work by a common laborer. Someone once said “God must have loved the common man because he made so many of them!” so I was in circulation a lot. Of course that makes it sound grander than it really was. I was mostly used to buy food for the
family at the end of the day – bread, a little wine, maybe some fish if they could get it.
That sounds pretty dull.
Actually my life was not without controversy.
Yes. I was also the required coin used to pay the Imperial tax. It was easy enough to figure out – no tax consultants necessary! Every Israelite had to pay a denarius once a year to support the Roman occupation. Each man; one denarius; every year! That led to lots of drama: everything from sighs and grumbling to full scale revolts. It never really did any good. The Romans were serious about getting their money. They’d kill to get it.
So were you ever involved in any of the drama?
You bet! On two occasions, if you can believe it. I get around!
You may know that there are money-changers located at the Temple. People come from far away to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a trip of a lifetime! But it is inconvenient to carry a lamb all the way from your hometown to the big city, so folks usually buy what they are going to sacrifice right there. Anyway, this particular day I was stacked up on a table with lots of other coins, ready to be part of the business for the day. Being involved in the give and take of trade in such a place is a rush. There’s no gathering dust! You go from one hand to another a hundred times!
But this one day, some hick from Nazareth storms in blazing mad and screaming about the operation being a “den of robbers”! He was pushing and shoving and knocking things over. I went flying … which was a mixture of thrilling and terrifying! People were grabbing for me. Sheep were running everywhere! Doves were shedding feathers! People were cussing! It was pure chaos. I swore I’d be happy if I never saw that fellow ever again!
But of course I did.
You bet. I learned his name was Jesus. He was back at the Temple the next day. He must have slipped past security. Only this time he was quiet. I guess he’d gotten all the fire out of his system.
But somebody recognized him. A strange combination of folks teamed up – Pharisees and Herodians. Normally they can’t stand each other, but this day they were in lock-step.
They cornered him and asked him a question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?”
What did he say?
I’m getting to that. Don’t rush me! Let the story unfold.
Anyway, this was a dangerous question. If he said it was lawful, necessary even, then lots of his supporters would abandon him, disappointed he wasn’t going to stand up to Rome. But if he said it wasn’t lawful, then Rome would snatch him up and put him to death as a rebel!
That sound like an impossible decision. Which course did he choose?
Neither! He asked them to bring him a coin! They dug around in their pockets and one of them – probably a Herodian – brought me out. I was back in the spotlight again! It felt good!
You know people talk about me all the time:
Will there be enough coins to pay the bills?
Who has the most coins?
Where did all the coins go?
But nobody really looks at me. They squirrel me away, or throw me down on the bar, or jingle me in their pocket, but they don’t see me.
He asked them to look at me. He asked them whose image was stamped there on the metal.
Why did he do that?
I think he was reminding them?
Of Genesis … what? Don’t look at me like that! I’ve spent time in worship, I hear things.
Anyway, Genesis 1:26 says that God created people in his image. Sometimes humans forget that.
Yes, you do. I know I’m a coin. I know my only value is what I can buy. You give me to Caesar in exchange for aqueducts or so-called peace. You give me to a merchant for a jug of wine or a loaf of bread or a pair of Italian sandals! You give me to the Temple and hope God blesses you.
But you are stamped with the image of your creator and God values you more than others do, more than you yourself do. You think you are only valuable when you are young and pretty or strong or talented. God loves you even when you feel worthless, because you are children of God!
So was that how it ended? They looked closely at you and were enlightened?
No. Jesus said one more thing. It was like a riddle. He said, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed!
What do you think it meant?
I think he was being subversive. When he said, “Give to the emperor …” I think everybody thought he had given up; that he was acknowledging Rome’s power. But when he said, “And to God, what are God’s,” I think everybody was remembering the beginning of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it!
That doesn’t leave much that Caesar has first dibs on, does it?
Was that the last you saw of Jesus?
Actually, our lives crossed one more time. I was part of a bag of 30 pieces of silver … but that’s a story for another time.
Well thank you very much. I hope to see more of you.
Everybody says that! Bye!
1 see https://www.everythingisalive.com/