Sunday, October 15, 2017

Matthew 22.15-22: Who You Look Like

And they brought him a denarius. "They" are those Pharisees who were trying to trap Jesus. Someone pulled a coin out of a pocket, and everyone leaned in to take a new look at what was probably a reasonably familiar object. That's the moment in the story when everyone holds their breath waiting to see what happens next. That's the gospel reading for Proper 24(29)A/Pentecost 20A (Matthew 22:15-22).

Jesus neatly answers the Pharisees trick question. If it looks like Caesar, it belongs to Caesar. If it looks like God, it belongs to God. The image on the coin looked like Caesar. All the Caesars marked their rise to caesar-hood by putting their own image on the coins of the realm. And don't forget that Palestine in the time of Jesus was very much in the realm of the Roman empire. 

If the coin looks like the emperor, then it belongs to the emperor.
For more on the Mount Zion Archaelogical Dig, see this blog by one of the dig's directors and this site about the dig.
In the fall of 2016, a rare gold coin (above) was found in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem. The coin, dated around 56 or 57 CE, bore the image of the Roman emperor Nero, best known for his cruelty, tyranny, and being emperor when Rome burned. It was Nero who sent Vespasian to Jerusalem in the year 67 to squash a rebellion. Only a couple of years later Nero would commit suicide, and Vespasian would be the last one standing in a year that saw four Roman emperors. Emperor Vespasian would send his son Titus to oversee the military campaign that ended in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Those are the things that look like the emperor...and therefore belong to the emperor.

Several things are especially remarkable about the finding of this coin. First, its location is known and documented. Knowing the coin's location helps piece together the story of the journey of the coin. Second, because the coin is gold it has not decayed. This image of this emperor is still visible today, millennia after his death.

So now the things that look like God...well, they belong to God. And just what is it that looks like God?

When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

For thoughts on the reading from Hebrew scripture (Exodus 33:12-23), click here.

For thoughts on the epistle reading (Thessalonians 1:1-10), click on the Facebook link below. To see the FB link, you will need to go to the blog post.

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