Matthew 22:15-22

Show Me The Money

By Dr. Mickey Anders

In the 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire,” Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Rod Tidwell, a wide receiver for the Arizona professional football team, and Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, his high-powered pro sports agent. Roger Ebert makes this conclusion about the movie: “The movie is about transformation: About two men who learn how to value something more important than money, and about two women who always knew.” (1)

In the most memorable scene in the movie, the two main characters got into a heated argument over their contract. At the end of the scene, they were both shouting the mantra, “Show me the money! Show me the money! Show me the money!” I could not help but think of that scene when our text finds Jesus saying almost the same words.

The Pharisees have joined with the Herodians, the most unlikely of accomplices, in trying to trap Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are honest, and teach the way of God in truth, no matter whom you teach, for you aren’t partial to anyone. Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Neither group really wanted Jesus to agree with them. The Herodians were hoping that Jesus would say, “No, you should not pay taxes.” That’s the Pharisees’ position. Then Jesus would have been in big trouble with the Roman authorities. If he agreed with the Pharisees, the Herodians could charge him with revolution against the Romans.

The Pharisees were hoping Jesus would take the Herodians position and say, “Yes, you should pay taxes.” Then Jesus would have lost the support of the people who hated Roman occupation of Israel. If he agreed with the Herodians, the Pharisees could charge him with idolatry. They were trying to catch Jesus on the horns of a dilemma.

However, Jesus avoided their trap altogether by saying, “Show me the tax money.” His wording was just a little different from that of Tom Cruise, but his meaning was the same. “Show me the money.”

It is interesting that Jesus himself did not have the coin, so someone in the group brought him a denarius, which was the usual payment for a day’s wage. When Jesus asked whose head was on the coin, they answered, “Caesar’s.” In the time of Jesus, the denarius had the image of the emperor Tiberius, with the phrase “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”

That is when Jesus answered with one of his most often quoted statements, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This cryptic sentence stumped both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Scripture records that they were amazed and went away. Personally, I wish they had stayed and asked Jesus to clarify exactly what he meant.

Our first impression of Jesus’ quick witted reply is that he has laid down a simple principle to cover all the complexities of living in the real world. Give to the government what belongs to the government; give to God what belongs to God. The difficulty comes in the details. Just what exactly does belong to the government? What belongs to God?

Most knowledgeable Christians agree with Psalm 24, which says, “The earth is Yahweh’s, with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell therein.” Everything belongs to God. And more particularly, the image of God is stamped on every human being, so we must conclude that we, ultimately, belong to God alone. But if that is the case, how do we decide what appropriately belongs to government?

Quite frankly, Christians today are as confused about what Jesus meant as the first Christians who heard this witticism must have been. Christians are all over the map in their understanding of the appropriate relationship of Christians to the government and to the world in general.

The classic work on this subject was written by H. Richard Niebuhr in 1951 entitled Christ and Culture. This book still influences the discussion today. In it, Niebuhr, proposes five different stances that Christians have taken in their relations with the world. Today I want to take a close look at each one of the five types. Perhaps you will find your own understanding best reflected by one of them.

Christ against Culture

The first position is described as “Christ against culture.” In this view, Christ would have nothing to do with culture; he is against it. This could be described as “the condemnation of culture.”

In our text, the Pharisees represented this point of view. They were the party of religious purity. In their insistence upon absolute adherence to the Law, they argued against paying any tribute to Rome. The Pharisees worked with their Roman overlords only as a matter of necessity.

This group represents all those sectarian groups that have withdrawn from society. One might even include the Christian school movement in this category because the students withdraw from the culture of the public schools. The Amish people quickly come to mind. In another generation, most people would have first thought of those withdrawing into Catholic monasteries. But this position is also taken to a lesser degree by many Pentecostals, Church of Christ, and old-time Baptists.

In our area, the Old Regular Baptists might best fit this profile. They have steadfastly resisted the influence of modern culture and clung desperately to their own ways. They have their own way of dressing. They sing their mountain songs including “lining them out.” They meet on their own schedule, and resist a paid ministry. They still have three hour funerals when 30 minutes is the norm for the rest of us.

These folks view the world outside the church as hopelessly corrupted by sin. In their churches, you would hear sermons that condemned almost everything in contemporary culture with the conclusion that “the world is going to hell in a hand basket.”

And they have no intention of trying to change something that is sold out to the devil. Their task is to withdraw from it and create the kingdom of God in the purity of their own group. They often talk about the importance of holiness in their churches. Their best hope for the world is that it will come to an end quickly and the messianic kingdom will replace it.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14b-17 Paul presents this view when he says,

“For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, ‘Come out from among them, and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing.'”

When Jesus said in John 18:36, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” these folks insist he meant that the church was to be about getting to heaven, not about how things are run here.

These attitudes show up quite often in the old-time songs. “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop, in that fair land where we’ll never grow old” “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.”

Christ of Culture

The second stance taken by many Christians is described as the “Christ of Culture.” In this view the conflict between Christ and culture gives way to a harmony between the two. This could be described as “the adoption of culture.” The contemporary culture is baptized.

In our text, the Herodians fit in this group. This group of Jewish leaders had completely sold out to the Romans. The Romans had placed this line of Idumean rulers in place as their puppets to rule in Rome’s name. The Herodians were overjoyed to use Roman money since they saw the future of Judaism within the Greek culture of the empire.

Christians began to adopt this view when the emperor Constantine decided to take the Roman Empire with him when he converted to Christianity. He is known for marching his armies through a river and then declaring that they were thus baptized and had become Christians. With the church and state combined, the spiritual and the cultural blend together.

And today, many Christian groups sell out to culture. At their best, these Christians are merely championing the moral and spiritual common ground between the teachings of Christ and the noblest values of contemporary culture. At it’s worst, these Christians overly identify God and culture or God and country. These are the ones who say, “Our country right or wrong.” “America is a Christian nation.” “You can’t separate patriotism and Christianity.”

These may also be the folks who stampede to bring culture’s latest fads into the church buildings. Contemporary Christian music makes it’s appeal by sounding just like everything else on the radio. Contemporary Christian worship tries to use the techniques and standards of the MTV generation and CNN media in the church. They argue that we have to use the communication techniques of the culture if we are to speak to this generation. They have adopted the position of the Herodians, the Christ of culture.

But one thing we know about Jesus answer is that he didn’t make either one of these groups happy. Both groups stormed away in a huff. Between these two extreme positions, Niebuhr lists three moderating positions.

Christ Above Culture

His third view is labeled as “Christ above culture.” In this view, the church stands over the world and relates to the world only in it’s effort to redeem it. This view might be described as “the church tolerating the world.”

At one extreme would be the position of the Deists who pictured God as the Cosmic Clock Maker who wound up the universe and let it go. God is above culture and has little to do with it.

Others take this view when they focus all their attention at converting souls for heaven. The church is here only to draw people upward. Evangelism is all that matters and all the contact that the church should have with the world. We don’t have to work at making the world better, we just have to work at rescuing from it those who are destined for eternity.

All the books in the “Left Behind” series have this mind-set. The world is just getting worse and worse, but one day, Jesus will come and set everything right. In the meantime, our only task is to covert as many people as possible.

Christ the Transformer of Culture

A fourth view is “Christ the transformer of culture.” In this view, society is to be entirely converted to Christianity. Business, the arts, family life, education, government — nothing is outside the purview of Christ’s dominion, and all must be reclaimed in his name.

These are the Christians who love to talk about the culture wars. They see a ferocious battle going on in our society. Sometimes they describe the enemy as pluralism, tolerance, or secular humanism. Every issue can be boiled down into black and white issues with “them” against the Christians. There is “a Christian position” on abortion, homosexuality, vouchers for private schooling, welfare, and the coming war with Iraq. Anyone who disagrees with them on any of these issues is clearly fighting on the Devil’s side.

They would like nothing better than to knock down the separation of church and state and truly make this country a Christian nation. They want to mobilize Christians who agree with them to vote as a block for candidates who agree with them. If the folks who are Muslem, Hindu, or maybe Disciples of Christ disagree with their stance, then they should just move to a country where they are in the majority. In this country, majority rules and they are intent on being the majority. Let the minority go along or leave.

They love to sing, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Or, “Shine, Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory.”

Christ and Culture in Paradox

Niebuhr offered a fifth position, but it was one that was hard even for him to describe. He called it “Christ and culture in paradox.” These are the Christians who don’t think everything is black and white. In fact, they think there is a lot of ambiguity in this world. They understand Jesus’ description of the kingdom as a “mixed field with wheat and tares” (Matthew 13:24-30). They know that Christians are to be in the world but not of it.

In spite of the difficulties and messiness of the world, modern governments, and cultures, they feel they are called to work within them the best they can without compromise. At the same time, they recognize that sin mars all our efforts. But they continue to affirm that God works in mysterious ways, often behind the scenes. These Christians are suspicious, but filled with hope. They recognize this as an “in-between time,” and are going to make the best of it. They know that the kingdom of God has penetrated this world, and they are going to throw their efforts in the direction of the kingdom.

They affirm Jeremiah 29:7, which says, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you shall have peace.”

So, what do we do? Take your pick:

Christ against culture
Christ of culture
Christ above culture
Christ transforming culture
Christ and culture in paradox

Since Jesus didn’t clarify exactly what he meant, perhaps he meant for us to learn something from all five positions. Yes, we must strive for holiness, as the first type asserts. Yes, we must affirm with the second that which is genuinely good in any culture. Yes, we must proclaim the Good News and seek to win the lost while we can. Yes, we must be at work transforming this part of God’s world. And yet, we might also recognize that God has called us to lives of difficult paradox, full of ambiguity and irony.

“Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”



Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2002 Dr. Mickey Anders.  Used by permission.