They Conspire Against You 29 Sun A 2017

Friends, from experience, I know how it feels when people or when some mighty people incite almost a whole community to be against you or your family. In their greed and quest for power, they deceive poor people while they pretend to be sincere, honourable people who live according to the words of God. They use the traditional fora as their platforms and still control make the church platform for their evil conspirations. Many of us fall victims to these group of people. We have become increasingly vulnerable to mere fabrications and conspiratory theories unable to separate opinions from facts. We help in dehumanizing others and forget to see the image of God in them. Some people make it their project to bring us down.  When this happens, some might wonder if it would not be better never to have been born. Now, it may seem so dark in one's life that everything seems to be lost. Cicero told about two thousand years ago about a volcanic eruption. For two days the world was covered with a darkness so thick that the people on the street did not see each other. One believed the world's demise had begun. On the third day, the sky was blue again. One had received from the beginning, one's own life, each other, and the world. Everything brightened in bright colours. The night always breaks forth in the morning light. Today's difficulties will also pass and when it feels darker, it's also when the day breaks out. Only God is God everything else is idol and work of human hands. The safest card is to stay by the word of God because all other ways lead to destruction.

God declared that he was the one who raised Cyrus as king of the Media and the Persian and expanded his kingdom to Syria, Babylon, and Egypt for Israel's sake (Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6). He was chosen as the instrument of God to accomplish the plan of God. He freed the Jews from the exile and gave them permission to return home, rebuild the temple and the city. God has called Cyrus by name and given him a name (anointed) that non-Jews could not get at this time. There is no other God except God. He is the Lord and no one else. God has done this to show the whole world that only God is God and nobody else. Other gods are works of human hands, idols, who have ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see and mouth but cannot speak. Cyrus was a heathen, one who worshiped idols. He did not know the true God, but the true God could use him as his instrument.

In today's gospel text we encounter a question which is as topical as it was during Jesus' time, namely the politics of taxation. In Sweden, tax politics has been around for a long time. This also applies to many other countries in the world. Not paying or cheating on taxes can have serious consequences. Many companies, organizations and individuals have suffered seriously, imprisoned for tax evasion.

For a while we have listening to various parables that Jesus has addressed to the scribes, the high priest, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus’ enemies are very annoyed. He has told these parables to put their evils in open. The Pharisees are conspiring to get him to say something that allows them to surrender him to the Roman rulers. Some believe that the Pharisees paid some of their disciples to make Jesus fall. They dared not seize Jesus because of the people when he spoke and revealed their hypocrisy. Therefore, they are trying to trap Jesus with difficult questions so that the people can turn against him. When people want to hurt you, they try to make you vulnerable by inciting others against you. Once you lost peoples’ sympathy, you become vulnerable and an easy prey.

The Pharisees can be described as a revival movement in Judaism. They carefully studied the five books of the Old Testament and tried to live according to them. Herod Antipas who ruled Galilee and Peren, founded the city of Tiberias, was the son of Herod the great who murdered the innocent children in Bethlehem (Matt 2:16). The Pharisees and Herod's followers were two different groups that did not have much in common. The one thing they agreed on was to get Jesus out of the way.

During this time, many Jews were locked in conflict with the Roman authorities. Paying taxes to Caesar created a dispute between the Jews and the Romans. Jesus' answer to them makes this scene the most memorable money-related text in the Bible. The specific tax described in today's gospel applies to the head-tax that all men, women and slaves aged 12 to 65 must pay. It was a denarius, that is, a day’s salary. It was instituted when Israel had become a Roman province. The Romans forced the Jewish people to pay taxes to the emperor.

The Pharisees opposed this tax while Herod's followers supported the Romans and the tax. Many Jews wanted to establish a theocracy as an ideal Jewish state. They considered all non-Jewish rulers over Israel as an abomination to God. To pay taxes to such a ruler was the same as to effectively deny God's sovereignty over the nation. Jesus could not afford to reject this position. On the other hand, the Romans were sensitive to everything that looked like resistance to their rule. Everyone must accept Roman authority. If Jesus denied the validity of paying taxes, then he could be surrendered to the Romans as someone encouraging rebellion. Jesus avoids the trap by pointing out that the money used for paying taxes was part of the non-Jewish state and as such, it could be lawfully given to the Romans - but this only to the things belonging to the Gentiles. When something belongs to God, it shall be given to God. In practice, he believes that those who asked the question of taxes should take seriously their commitment to giving God His glory. God has created all people in his image. Therefore, everyone must give glory to God. If money belongs to the emperor, then the whole human being belongs to God. To give the emperor what belongs to the emperor also means that as citizens of a particular society and the world's citizens, we must live according to the demands of justice and peace in social relations and to work for the common good in consensus and solidarity with all that is created.

When the Pharisees and Herod followers came to Jesus, they tried to flatter him. Behind their smiles is hidden their hypocrisy. This was not the first time the Pharisees wanted to fool Jesus and make him fall (Mark 10: 2). They had not considered that they were speaking to God himself. Jesus' response must have surprised those who asked the question and those who heard him that he could avoid the trap while finding a way to teach them a religious lesson. That the coin had the inscription of Emperor Tiberius, the son of the deified Augustus, meant to the Jews a denial of God's sovereignty. The Jews' resistance to Roman rule with its tax collection and involvement in Jewish life led to a rebellion in year 6 BC. under the leadership of Judas of Galilee. Another revolt occurred from 66 to 70 A.D, a protest that ended with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and led to the dispersion of Jews around the world.

Here it is important not to forget that the worship of the emperor was an important part of Roman society. Both Jesus and the Apostles did not oppose this as long as the Emperor did not go against God (1 Pet 2: 11-17). As long as the state does not oppose God's will (Acts 4: 18-20), we will obey the state and pay taxes (Rom. 13: 6-7). In this context, there was also another side of the Emperor cult, which meant sacrificing to the emperor, worshiping him as a god. The Jewish people had an exception to this aspect of the emperor’s cult as long as they paid their taxes.

The first Christians were included in this exception as long as the Romans considered that the Christians were a Jewish sect. But when Christianity and Judaism went separate ways, this exception no longer extended to the Christians, which led to those who refused sacrifice to the emperor to become martyrs. Among Christians there were divisions between those who agreed to sacrifice to the Emperor and those who refused to do so. In Jesus' reply, we see that he agreed that people should honour the Emperors and pay Roman taxes, but did not agree that they should sacrifice to the Emperor or worshiper him.

The currencies of the Romans were legal in Palestine, which was a province of Rome. The right to make coins is still a sign of independence for a country. The question which the followers of the Pharisees, and Herod put to Jesus with the intention of trapping him, was really a political matter concerning the right of the Romans to rule over the Jews. "Is it right to pay taxes to the Emperor?" Jesus, who understood what they were planning, asked, "Show me a coin that you pay taxes with:" Whose image and name is this? "When they answered the Emperor, Jesus said, "Then give to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor and to God what belongs to God”. These words of Jesus have often been misinterpreted and misapplied. Some have seen in them a license to engage in all forms of idolatry. But what does Jesus really mean? If the Jews had agreed to use the Emperor's coin, then there could be no mistake to give back some of the Emperor's belongings to him.

The Apostles Paul (Romans 13: 1-7) and Peter (1Pt 2: 13-14) emphasize the importance of the Christians living as exemplary citizens of the state. Like God, using Cyrus, he uses today's atheists, agnostics, sceptics, and various events wherever they may be to accomplish his plan for the world. The enemies of God do not understand that they are unwilling instruments in God's hands that work together to execute God's plan for his people. If, in difficulty, we trust that everything rests in God's hands, the pain can turn into grace. There is a risk that life's trials might be so difficult that people lose all hope and give up (Luke 18: 1, 22:46). We should pray that the cruelty of life should never endanger our trust in the goodness of God, beyond anything that happens or seems to happen. “In the world, you will suffer but be in good courage, I have defeated the world. "

With the grace of God, the Apostle Paul converted some Jews and Greeks in Thessaloniki in the summer of 50 AD. Then he travelled to Athens and Corinth (Acts 17: 1-10), where he wrote the letter to the converts in Thessaloniki in 51 AD. This was the first of the New Testament scriptures. Paul encourages them for their faithfulness, sacrifice in love and hope, telling them that he constantly thinks of them in his prayers, mentioning their names constantly in prayers.

As humans, we have dual citizenship, namely in the world and in heaven. Based on this, we have commitments to both. We have obligations to God and obligations towards our country. We fulfil our commitments to God by being faithful, loyal, active members of the spiritual realm, the Church, which Christ has founded to lead us to eternal life. We fulfil our obligations to our country by obeying the laws of law established by the state for the common good. We do this by paying legitimate taxes and contributing to common good.  It is God's plan for people to live in society and have laws and leaders. Leaders are entitled to everyone's loyalty and obedience in everything that leads to the good of the people as long as it does not hinder the spiritual well-being of the citizens. Therefore, we must give to God what belongs to God. But we are created primarily for spiritual life. Therefore, our spiritual needs must be satisfied.

When Jesus eventually stood before the Great Council, a failed attempt was made to use the same allegations to sentence him to death (Mark 14: 55-59). Jesus' disciples always need to be awake.  The powers of darkness do not rest. They do not give up. Our struggle is like a struggle all through life. But our victory is already guaranteed because we are under Jesus' mantle and victory. After the Pharisees failed attempts, some leaders from another religious group would come to attempt to set another trap for him. We will meet the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, raise a question about the resurrection and brotherhood to cause Jesus to fall. The wicked do not give up but continue in their evil until they either repent or suffer greatly for their evil. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

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