That is a very interesting story from Jesus. [To see the words of the gospel, click here.] The enemies of Jesus go up to trap Jesus. Who are they? Two groups: one group is from Pharisees, the leaders of the Jewish people; the other group is from King Herod. The two of them are opposite to each other, but both of them come together. Why? Because they both see Jesus is a challenge. The religious leaders saw Jesus wanted to change the rules for worshiping God, how to live a good of life, what God really wanted. It would mean the religious leaders would become more weak; their power would be less. Herod’s group did not want any problems with the government. If Jesus were against them, it would mean the people could revolt against the King. The two of them went against Jesus.
They wanted to find a way of overcoming him. The two groups go to Jesus to ask a question. First they flatter him and say, “Jesus, we know you are an honest man. You respect power? you do not. You want justice for all people. The question: pay the tax to Caesar, the king of Rome, or not? Yes or no? Which?” The problem is if Jesus says, Yes, pay the tax; it means what? All the Jewish people against Rome, who did not want to cooperate with the king in Rome, they will be angry. But if Jesus says, Pay the tax, don’t. It means the political powers with the king, they will be angry; they will say, Jesus wants to lead a revolt against Caesar in Rome. It is a problem for Jesus to say yes or no. But Jesus says, “You know, you are hypocrites. Right now you pay taxes, right? how? With Roman money. Show me the Roman money.” So they gave him a coin. “The picture on the money, whose picture is that? What are the words there? On that coin, what? The picture is the King, Caesar in Rome. The words printed on the coin say “Divine Caesar.” Divine means God. The coin says the King is equal to God. You use that coin; it means you are saying the King in Rome is equal to God. You are hypocrites.”
What do we learn? Jesus accepts government power. Why? We need the government to keep peace, have the police, have an army for defense. It means all government is perfect? No. All human government needs to improve. With no government, there will be confusion, fighting, killing; we do not want that. But Jesus also knew that sometimes what the government wants, the King wants, is opposite to what God wants. To obey government, to obey the King is to go against what God wants, separate from God. Sometimes you have to make a choice: which is more important? What God wants? Or what a person with authority from the government, the king wants, which is more important? which is it? Sometimes it is not easy to decide because to be against the government means you can suffer; the government has authority, power and can punish you, can hurt you. But what God wants is the right way; the government, the King wants something wrong. To obey the King now is safe, but to be opposite to God is not good. So sometimes a person has to choose which to obey? Obey God? Obey the king? Know–the two of them are different, opposite. Sometimes you or I have to make choices: following one way the government way — easy, smooth, satisfactory, safe, but wrong! To obey God can be hard, challenging, difficult, but right! Which one? You and I have to decide which is right.
Let me tell you a story. This church is named for St. Thomas More. His last name was More. Thomas was an important person, a lawyer, high in politics and government in England, a long time ago, the time of King Henry the Eighth. The King was married in the Catholic Church; it was a sacrament. He wanted children, one son to become the next king. But his wife could not become pregnant? He wanted the Pope in Rome to cancel his first marriage so he could marry again. He would pick a better wife so he could have children. But his first marriage in the Catholic Church was a sacrament. The pope could not annul it. The Pope in Rome said, “Sorry your first wedding was a sacrament; you cannot cancel it.” Henry King said, “I can do anything I want.” He forced all of the important people in England to sign a paper saying, “The King is right. He can divorce his first wife and pick another wife; the king can do it.” One man refused, who? Thomas More. He said, “No, no. God’s will is clear. Your first marriage was a sacrament; God made the two of you joined forever. Divorce is not possible.” The king was angry that Thomas More refused to accept the divorce; he wanted to force Thomas to change. He threw Thomas into prison where he suffered, but Thomas did not change his mind and accept the king’s wishes. He said, “Obeying you will keep me alive for a short time, but it is opposite to God’s will.” He refused to agree with the King. The King said, “Go to jail; I will force you to change.” But Thomas did not change his mind. He stayed in jail, a long, long time. The King said, “You ready to change?” Thomas More said, “No! Obey God, I must. The king could not force him. The king then had one of his men cut off the head of Thomas More. He became a martyr; he showed it was more important to obey God’s will, more important than obeying the king’s will. He became a saint.
Same with you and me; you and I go against kings? No. But sometimes you and I have to make a decision to do what God wants or to do what the person with power wants. Which? Sometimes we have to decide. It is not always easy.