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Searching for pocket change

By Charles Qualls

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. Nor did I grow up poor. We were comfortable, but my folks worked hard. I confess that I took it for granted back then as they sent me to college. We didn’t qualify for assistance, nor was I an elite student who got academic scholarships. They paid for it all. I look back on that now, and I am amazed. It wasn’t an act of responsibility they did in educating me. It was a lavish gift that they gave me, trusting me to in turn do something with that education.

So let me ask you a few questions. What is the most generous act anyone has ever done for you? What is the most generous act you have ever done with your money or possessions? Finally, what is the most quiet and consistently responsible thing you still do with your money?

This week, our Scripture story in Matthew 22:15-22 gave us a couple of odd features to talk about. One of them is downright intriguing. The other is important to our living. First there is the intriguing reality of unlikely allies teaming up against Jesus, as the Pharisees and the Herodians did. Then, second there is the effect that greed can have on our gratitude and generosity.

Isn’t it fascinating when two unlikely allies find each other and join up? I’ve seen it happen in all walks of life. I’ve seen unlikely allies join up in workplace politics, in communities and in government. History has shown it happen in war and in policy, in economic movements and yes, it happens sometimes in churches.

Here’s how it works. Two parties or individuals that normally oppose each other, or just have nothing in common, join up. Here’s the fascinating part. Many times, they don’t really even like each other. But they suddenly figure out that they do have one shared enemy or goal. So they get together and use each other to try to get what they want.

In our story, there were pharisees who disliked the Roman Empire. They wanted to rise up and get rid of Rome. They were working to drive them out of Jerusalem some day. Then there were the Herodians. These were Jews who had learned the Roman system and were benefiting from it. Under Communism, we saw the same thing happen during the 20th century in Europe. They didn’t like the Communism. But they had adapted and would go backwards now if it were gotten rid of. These particular Jews in our story had found reasons to become loyal to Rome.

The one shared enemy they had was Jesus. Both groups opposed him and wanted him eliminated at nearly any cost. They didn’t like each other, but they disliked Jesus even more. So you’ve heard an explanation of what was going on here probably. They planted a question to paint Jesus into a corner. If He answered that paying taxes was right, the Pharisees would have him and the crowd could have been incited to stone him to death. If he answered that they should rebel against Rome, the Herodians would have him and he could have been arrested or at least driven out of the empire for disloyalty.

Instead, Jesus left them searching through their pockets for change. “Anyone have a coin? Whose face is on the coins? Fine.Then, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s … .” Or, literally translated “give back” to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Then he said,“… and give to God what is God’s.” No one was expecting that answer.

If you want to find out what is most important to you, just get out your calendar and read it along with your credit card statement or your check register. Today, I would add one other thing. Whatever you find yourself talking about most on social media is more important to you than just about anything else. If you can’t find God in there, then that might speak to you. This isn’t about guilt. It is about us hearing Jesus and taking him seriously.

If we’re holding back either time or money, if we’re being stingy with God, Jesus has a word for us today. “Give to God what is God’s.” What it means, in the gentlest terms, is that we all have a responsibility to each other to not hold back from God. But instead to support kingdom work at whatever level of ability we can. Trust me, your church needs your most faithful support.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.