Weekly Sermon Illustration: Render Unto Caesar

In our blog post every Monday we select a reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the upcoming Sunday, and pair it with a Frederick Buechner reading on the same topic.

On October 19, 2014 we will celebrate the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Here is this week's reading from the gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The excerpt below was originally published in Buechner's novel Love Feast, which was later combined with three additional novels to form The Book of Bebb. The excerpt is part of a conversation between Sharon and Antonio (the narrator) discussing the latest fiasco that Leo Bebb (a.k.a. Bip) has gotten himself into.

"I was fixing to give you a call one of these days," Sharon said, lighting what I took to be one of Anita Steen's king-size Winstons. "Bip's got me worried half sick."

"Bip's fine," I said. "He's the belle of Princeton.There's nothing to worry about."

She said, "Did he tell you the new one he's pulling on the IRS this year?"

I said, "He doesn't tell me the time of day any more. He's too busy with the Pepsi generation."

"You're lucky," she said. "He's been on the IRS shit-list for years, and this time he's really stuck his neck out. He was so tickled he called me up special just to read it out over the phone."

I said, "Read what out?"

"His tax form," she said. "He's filled out his tax form this year like he wasn't filling it out for himself but he was filling it out for Jesus. Right down the line, that's how he's done it. Like where it says put down your first name, he's put down the first name Jesus, and where it says last name, he's put down, 'I am the first and the last, says the Lord.' "

She said, "The place where it says wages, he's put down 'The wages of sin is death.' He's filled out that whole thing with words out of Scripture like it was Jesus filling it out, 'Render unto Caesar' and all that stuff. He says all his income, it's going out for Jesus, so why not send it in like it was Jesus's income. He was pleased as punch when he read it over the phone.

"This time they're going to get him," she said. "They're going to jail him sure. The best he can hope for is they'll pack him off to the funny farm."

"He's been in worse spots," I said.