So Halloween is coming up and as you’d guess my kids are super excited to get all dressed up in their weird costumes. In the past, my wife made pretty much all the costumes they wanted, whether or not they ended up wearing them was a different story. If any of you follow me on Facebook you might have seen some of the pictures. She has made various video game and cartoon characters, some strange inanimate objects like crayons and Starbucks drinks, and my personal favourite, a Starfleet captain’s uniform.
This year, the costumes are going to be a bit more simple, in that Winnie isn’t going to have to spend hours and hours on making them. Ryan wants to go as Steve, that guy from Minecraft who just looks like a guy with a box for a head. So Winnie just got a literal box and Ryan is just going to wear it on his head. Wesley is just reusing a costume that has been used for the past couple years but for some strange reason still fits. And Kaylie asked to be a witch (or a “width” as she pronounces it… I guess she wants to be a measurement). And you know how rare witch costumes are around Halloween time… no I’m serious, they get sold out the first. So finding one that would fit a really tiny person like Kaylie might not be so easy, but Winnie did. She found a shop online that had stock, but it was all the way in North Vancouver. And if you remember, we had some heavy rains this past week, so Winnie had to head out in the torrential downpour to pick up this dumb thing before they were sold out as well. When they finally got home Winnie asked Kaylie to try it on and she was like, “nope, too scary.”
By the time I got home, she wouldn’t even wear the hat, she absolutely refused. I was thinking, you know you don’t actually turn into a witch, right? Like, it’s just a costume? And you know it’s still you under that costume, right? Dressing up as a witch is only as scary as you are… which isn’t very much.
But no, no dice. She still wouldn’t wear the “width” costume, because in her head, it’s too scary. Never mind that it was her idea to be a witch to begin with, and she was with Winnie every step of the way to get this costume, it was still too scary for her to just put on to try it out in the safety of her own home. Sheesh.
Why do I bring this up on this 20th Sunday after Pentecost? Well, because of one particular word that Jesus uses that jumps out at me: hypocrite. Now, I’m not in any way saying that my daughter is a hypocrite by today’s definition, but instead by way Jesus was probably using. In the original Greek, hypokrites literally means actor, someone who takes on the image of another, or perhaps to speak more generally, someone who takes on an image that isn’t their true self.
Essentially, you can see how our word hypocrite and the definition we have for it today would have been derived from hypokrites. The modern day hypocrite does exactly that, takes on an image that isn’t their own, even one that might contradict with who they really are or how they actually are. Basically in today’s terms a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another. Like, they might say they want to be a width for Halloween but then are actually for some strange reason too scared to even try on the costume, I guess you could say that is a hypocrite. Or say someone says that they’re not calling their daughter a hypocrite but they actually are… no wait, that is just a liar.
Either case, Jesus was calling the Pharisees and Herodians in today’s gospel story hypocrites, but not by today’s definition but he was calling them actors, those who have taken on a likeness and image that isn’t theirs. Well first, let’s have a bit of background to this story.
See, at this point as we might know, Israel is under Roman rule. The Romans have conquered a lot of the lands, and Israel was feeling “oppressed” by their pagan religiosity. When in actual fact, they were given a lot of autonomy to practice what they want, since no one really cared about this little city at the edge of Judea anyway, so long as they paid their taxes. Taxes for what you ask? Aside from the regular taxes they would have to pay for their city, the one in question is the tax paid to the Roman government, pretty much to keep them ruling over Israel. I guess it could be seen almost as an extortion tax, protection money, the spoils that a bully would get over the school yard children. No one likes to pay tax, but this particular one was the one that was really hated, and not just because they were paying to be oppressed, but because of the coin they had to pay it with.
That is the emperor’s face. The inscription basically denotes Cesar as the son of god or a god himself. So even holding onto this coin is a violation of the first two commandments, love God only and don’t have idols (but saving or viewing the picture on your PC is ok, don’t worry about it). So with all this in mind, the trap set by the Pharisees and Herodians is a pretty good one. If Jesus were to answer their question that they should pay the tax, then he would effectively alienate himself from the Jewish people who hold onto those first two commandments pretty tightly. On the other hand, if Jesus were to side with the people and suggest that they don’t need to or even shouldn’t pay the tax, then he would arrested by the Roman authorities for sedition (which is basically what happens later anyway, but not for this particular episode). Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
But Jesus doesn’t seem worried one bit. Instead, he throws the question right back at them. Keep in mind that this whole encounter very likely happened in the temple, and what does Jesus ask of them? Right after calling them hypocrites, he asks them to show him the coin used to pay the tax. Notice there was no hesitation whatsoever, they were just like, oh yeah here, I got one in my pocket.
They had a coin on them! While in the temple, no less! They basically answered their own question by pulling out the smoking gun! And to drive his point home Jesus asks them what image, or in the Greek: ikon, does the coin bear? And we know the answer to that from the picture we just saw. That coin that they were carrying had Cesar’s face stamped right on it. The change they had in their pockets to pay the divisive tax was the ikon of their oppressors.
Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. This is where the beauty of the language comes in, right after Jesus calls them hypocrites, ones who take on another image, then Jesus throws that back at them… image… ikon… identity. Jesus is telling them that what belongs to who is denoted by whose image is upon it. These Pharisees and Herodians wanted to look justified, they wanted to look righteous, they wanted to look, well, right. So they took on that image but they forgot who and whose they really are.
See when Jesus asked whose image was on the coin, the word he used, ikon, is the same word used in Genesis when God declared that people will be created in God’s image. Hear that? We are created in God’s image, we bear the ikon of God, God gives us identity when life was breathed into us by the Spirit. Jesus is saying here that the emperor can have these pieces of stamped metal with his face on it, because God is more interested in the hearts of people. God is more interested in relationship than wealth. God is more interested in our identity in our communities, as individuals, and as beloved sons and daughters, than ruling over us and expecting us to make God richer. So we can pretend all we want, but we still will belong to God. We can put on the image of another, but we will still have been made in God’s image. We can be hypocrites, but God will continually instill in us a sense of identity as God’s children, giving us a value and worth beyond measure.
Yesterday we lost our dear sister Ruth. And while some of us may not have known her very well, in that we might not know where she was born, the names of her siblings, or even what she did for a living. But I think we would be hard pressed in this congregation to not know her heart. You couldn’t speak 2 sentences to Ruth without feeling her warmth, her care, and her genuine love for people. All this talk about bearing God’s image, I feel like Ruth did a bang up job at it. Not because she tried to or because she forced herself to be nice, but because she knew who she was and whose she was. She knew that she was redeemed by God, graciously forgiven, and absolutely loved, and that freed her to love back, to be so welcoming, and just to embrace all people as God’s children.
While we will miss her, this is a reason to rejoice. This is a reason to celebrate. This is a reason to fill our hearts with song, for our God is a gracious God, greatly to be praised, calling all of us by name and declaring us as God’s own. So as the Psalmist says the heavens will rejoice and the earth will be glad and the trees shall shout for joy in God’s name, because God has made the earth and all that is in it, filling it with life, laughter, and love, blessing us with relationship and community, and revealing to all what is good and right and true. And while we at times make mistakes, we fall off the path, and we forget all about the image in which we are created, we are graciously reminded week after week just who we are and to whom we belong, that we might embrace the name of Christ and the mark of the cross bestowed upon us.
As we look forward to the celebration of God forming and reforming us in God’s image, may we remember in whose likeness we are created, that we might love and serve and live up to the name that is above all names, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.