I love the story about Jesus accepting the "double-dog dare" from the Pharisees question on giving from this upcoming Sunday's Gospel. It hits us right where we live. I am sure Our Lord could not have foreseen just how money-centered our culture would become...Or, perhaps he did see it all around him.
Back in the day, offerings within the Temple had to be in shekels. Not because Roman coin was worthless, far from it. Like American dollars today, Roman currency was probably the most stable around. It had the Empire behind it, and the emperor's personal visage on it. But, with that image came a problem. Those pesky commandments of Torah prohibited graven images. What greater abomination that to present your monetary offering to God with the image of an earthly, created ruler upon it? Hence, the moneychangers in the Temple. Hence, the trick question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the worldly powers that govern us? Commit one way, you exercise and promulgate sedition against Rome. Commit the other, and you violate Torah. It is a no win situation.
An ultimate duality in which the answer can be "neither; nor."
So, what does Jesus do? He pulls a Solomon and cuts the baby in the middle of the room in half. He challenges the people around him to release their attachments. "Render unto Caesar" is no simple command, no witty reply. It is an answer that cuts all who hear it, and are burdened in a cash-driven culture, to the quick. Give up being defined by your check book. Use your core identity to define it instead. When we render to the world that which is the world's, and to God that which is God's; then we are able to take what is out of control back into relationship with our creator.
That is a particular challenge for me, as I prepare to begin to speak/lead/teach/be guided in this year's Stewardship season. I need to release the people of this parish to accept/reach out for their own destiny in the last quarter of this year...And for the next year's call to ministry. We will once again begin to define ourselves by the choices we make, and priorities we set in just who is rendered what over the next three months, year, and beyond.
Last night, at stewardship, we had a "remote devotion." One of the youngest members of the committee, who was at a rehearsal just down the hill at the chapel for this Sunday's Youth Eucharist, asked us to meditate on the story of the Widow's Mite. Some poor widow puts her two ha'pennies into the temple treasury and Jesus lauds her as the epitome of stewardship for the nascent Church? Giving out of our poverty? What is that supposed to mean? What about leadership gifts? What about soliciting support from the committed "big fish?" What I heard to committee come around to was that every commitment means the world to us, and to God. From the smallest, most challenging gift to the greatest. All are equal when all are embraced sacrificially and are intended for the building up of the kingdom of God in this place.
I found that humbling. Thank you, Jenn.
What is reminded me of was the fact that at the end of the day it is how each one of us responds uniquely to God's challenge of "Follow me." It means we love each other through crisis and change. It means every little bit really does help. It means that the ability to do great things brings great responsibility (thank you Spiderman!)
It was also brought home to me at this morning's early Eucharist. The readings followed from Sunday's Propers, and we read the passage from Philippians- the one in which Paul talks about how he knows what it is like to be hungry and to be well fed; to be poor and to be rich...And to be able to praise God and continue to serve his Christ with clear and strong intent no matter what comes down the pike.
If I lose my job tomorrow, I pledge. If I win the Powerball, I pledge. If I am the same as yesterday I pledge...Because in pledging I am finally taking the tail of the tiger in hand and taming the beast of my anxiety about dollars. I am starting to render to God that which is God's.
Now, go and tell the world!