What makes a saint? 33&1/3: The Final Insult

As part of my study for this week’s All Saints’ sermon, I’m rereading the “Principles of Revision” for the calendar of The Episcopal Church with a special interest into how it has changed over the past decade.  I’m comparing the Principles from the 2006 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts; Holy Women, Holy Men; and the proposed A Great Cloud of Witnesses.  First and foremost, it should be noted that a criteria for consideration in any of the three texts, one must be dead, though the latest incarnation does drop the 50 year requirement in favor of “a reasonable period of time.”  Sorry Archbishop Tutu, you need not apply. (For more on the dead thing, see yesterday’s post)

What strikes me, and I am not alone in this, is the shift, beginning with HWHM in 2009, away from the requirement that all those remembered on the calendar must be Christians.  In Principle #2, Christian Discipleship, in HWHM, it still states, as it did in 2006 LFF that “Baptism is… a necessary prerequisite for inclusion on the Calendar.”  This was not the case in practice however when they chose to include all four of the Dorchester Chaplains on February 3rd, including Alexander D. Goode, Rabbi and Chaplain in the United States Army who died trying to save the lives of the men aboard the USAT Dochester which was struck by a U-Boat torpedo on February 2, 1943.

Since then, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has suggested a change in policy such that “There may be occasional exceptional cases where not all of [the baptismal] promises are successfully kept, or when the person in question is not  Christian, yet the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the church an contributes to our fuller understanding of the Gospel.”

We can argue whether or not these four soldiers who doing their jobs are more worthy of recognition than any others, but that’s not of interest to me here.  What is of interest to me is the changing narrative of faithful living and of sainthood.  As I noted yesterday, Paul uses the word “saint” 41 times in the NRSV, and it always refers to the whole body of the faithful, those committed to the love and service of Jesus Christ.  I have no doubt that Rabbi Goode had heroic faith, what else would have allowed him to remove his own life jacket and hand it to someone else, but what service does it do him to be included on a calendar ostensibly reserved for faithful Christians?  Isn’t this just a step or two away from the Mormon’s posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims?  It seems to me that these brave men, Rabbi Goode chief among them, can be remembered for their heroism without requiring a place on a calendar which is commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as the calendar of saints.  Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m of the opinion that at the very least, faith in Christ should be a requirement of Christian sainthood.

What makes a saint? Part Deux

Yesterday, I began to ponder my sermon for All Saints’ Day by asking the question we’ve been struggling with at the real life Draughting Theology for weeks now, “What makes a saint anyway?”  This morning, the question is still on my mind, especially after reading Evan Garner’s take on it, in which he suggests that the Beatitudes are the place to begin thinking about sainthood.  “Saints are the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the reviled,” he writes, “God’s message to them turns their condition on its head: ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'”

This is all well and good, except I think that perhaps Evan misses one key point – saints don’t have to be dead.  To be fair to my good friend and brilliant colleague, almost everyone forgets this because, as I said yesterday, we’ve been so conditioned by the Roman Catholic idea of captial “S” Sainthood.  In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the Pauline letters include the word “saint” in its singular or plural form 41 times and every time it is used to describe Christians who are living and breathing with dual citizenship on earth and in the Kingdom of God.

Sainthood isn’t about the great reward waiting for us in heaven, it is about bringing heaven to earth right now.  We don’t blink an eye when someone suggests that Desmond Tutu is a saint, so why do we have such a hard time thinking of ourselves that way?  The Church would do well to remind her members of their sainthood early on.  Paul doesn’t hesitate to call the Christians in Ephesus, Colossae, and Thessolonica saints and then call them to live into that reality.  Here’s where those beatitudes come in, but instead of rejoicing in the great reward in heaven, we rejoice in knowing that we have brought heaven to earth, if only for a fleeting moment.  We rejoice in knowing that we have responded to the call to work alongside our creator in making Creation a better, more sacred, place.  We rejoice in knowing that we are saints, right here and right now.

a saint hard at work sorting canned goods for the hungry at Turkey Take-Out 2013

A saint hard at work sorting canned goods for the hungry at Turkey Take-Out 2013

What Makes a Saint?

This fall, in the real life version of Draughting Theology we’re discussing the question “What makes a saint anyway?” This question is hard to distinguish from “What makes a Saint anyway?” and we find ourselves slipping back and forth between the two.  Several of our members are former Roman Catholics, a few of whom attended parochial school.  Most of our members are life long Protestants and Anglicans.  Yet all of us have been impacted by the Roman model of sainthood what with the miracles and all that fun stuff.  We try hard to avoid that narrow road, but it at least gets a mention every week.

With all that in mind, I’m beginning to prepare to preach All Saints’ Day this week and more than ever, I’m drawn to the Old Testament (Apocraphyl) passage from the old Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-10,13-14.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men [and women], our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles;those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes–all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise. But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly [women and] men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.

What makes a saint?  Surely, there are those famous women and men who we remember with varying degrees of admiration.  We recall with great fondness those who carry the title “Saint” like Francis, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  We honor with lesser feasts those lesser saints like Hilda of Whitby, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Phillips Brooks.  And on one day of the year, we recall “all the saints who from their labors rest” like Mary whose funeral we celebrated here not too long ago.  The one thing that each of these had in common is their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Some were called to heroic sacrifice, some were called to bring the Church forward in wisdom, and some were called to sell homemade jelly with a smile and the love of God on their lips, but all were called by God to righteousness for the sake of the Gospel, which is, at the very least, a starting place on the pathway to sainthood.

Love is easy? #AGAPE

In 1st Corinthians 13, Paul writes that love is patient and kind; that love is not arrogant or rude; that love endures all things.  One thing he very much does not say, no matter how catchy this McFly song might be, is that love is easy.

The word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape (pronounced agape’ not a reference to Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel).

It is the same Greek word used by Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel lesson and according the Holli and Brendan on this week’s Collect Call, it serves as the basis for the word which the collect translates as “charity.”  Over on that theological treasure trove called Wikipedia, Thomas J. Oord, a modern day Nazarene Theologian, defines Agape as “an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being.”  Love really isn’t easy.

But why do we make it so hard?  Why is agape so impossible for human beings to pull off when we were created in the image of a God whose very definition, whose full character is love?  We’re pretty good at eros (romantic) love, storge (familial) love tends to come pretty naturally for most people, and philial (brotherly/friendship) love seems fairly doable, but it is agape love, the love that God shows us in Jesus Christ, love that seeks the good of another ahead of one’s self, that is so very hard.  Maybe it is because above all, we’re good at loving ourselves and so turning that love outward is difficult.  Maybe it is because we’ve been burned in other aspects of love and so we withhold the most intimate form of love from the cruelties of this world.  Whatever the reason, it comes down to the fact that love isn’t easy, that’s why we pray for help loving, that’s why God commands us to love, that’s why Jesus sums up the Torah as love, that’s why John tells us that God is love.  Agape love is a bar impossible to reach, but it is the goal of every human heart.

Your Holiness

According to the greatest source of theological and ecclesiastical wisdom in the history of the world, Wikipedia, the proper way to address the Bishop of Rome (aka the Pope), should you meet him, is “Your Holiness.”  Some might argue that given the history of the pontificate, this title is, at best, ironic.  Some might argue that.  Heck, I might argue that, but then again, I’m not 100% sure that many of us who are ordained are worthy of the title “The Reverend” either.  The truth of the matter is that many of the men who have held the highest office in Roman Catholicism have, in fact, been men worthy of the title “Your Holiness.”  Of course, many millions of the women and men who have, over the past 2,000 years, sought to follow Jesus are also worthy of that title as well.

This week’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson gives us a portion of the Law of Moses from Leviticus 19.  First on this list of Torah is “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Way to set the bar nice and low to start with, God.  Thanks a lot.

Be holy!?!?

That’s not easy.  As I wrote about yesterday, loving God and neighbor is hard enough, but how am I supposed to be holy? I’ve got a beard, but there’s no way I’ll ever be like these guys.

My vocation means wearing funny clothes, but I’ll never live up to the standard of women like these:

Do we even know what the word holy means?  I looked in up in my handy-dandy-now-woefully-outdated copy of Bibleworks and found that the Hebrew word translated as holy means, basically, “to be set apart.”  Monks and nuns do this well, their lives are fully devoted to “being set apart,” but what about us normal, run of the mill, Christians?  How do we become holy?

The key, I think, comes in the second half of the verse.  “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God am holy.”  In the life and ministry of Jesus, we have a glimpse of what it means like to live a life of holiness, a life set apart for God.  As my friend and colleague, Evan Garner, noted last week, this isn’t about asking “What Would Jesus Do?”  But rather, “What would make Jesus smile?”  What is it about our lives that when God looks upon us, makes God glad?  This, more than any other question, will help us steer away from our sinful and selfish desires, setting us apart from the prevailing narrative of this world, and aiming us toward holiness and the Kingdom of God.

So maybe this week, I’ll try to remember that according to Leviticus 19:2, my title should be “Your Holiness.”  We’ll see if that makes this Kingdom living thing any easier.

Love – Commandment – Love

I’m bad a podcasts.  There are several really great podcasts that I really wish I could get behind, but I’m just bad at it.  I’m good at reading articles.  I’m great at watching TV.  I’m awful at listening to podcasts.  Everytime I start one, within 9 seconds, I’m off somewhere else reading about things that annoy type a personalities or finding some other unnecessary distraction.

This annoys type a people. Believe me.

I tell you this to confess that though I love Holli and Brendan and the work they do with Acts 8 and The Collect Call, I don’t listen to it every week because I’m just bad at podcasts.  I will, however, tune in this week because I love, love, love the Collect for Proper 25.

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Make us love what you command.  I can’t wait to hear what they Collect Call has to say about that.  See, the coolest part about that prayer is that, in the end, we’re asking God to make us love the commandment to love: to love love; how awesome is that?  Matthew says that the Pharisees ask Jesus this final question to “test” him, but I think that’s just because Matthew is ticked off at the Pharisees.  I think that they ask Jesus about the greatest commandment because over the past few days of conflict, they’ve come to respect him in the same way Troy Polomalu might respect Peyton Manning.  Rather than testing Jesus, I like to think that they are genuinely interested in what this Rabbi from the sticks has to say about the greatest commandment.

Jesus does not disappoint.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  The greatest commandment is quite simply, love.

And so, when we, two thousand years later, pray that God might help us love what God commands, we’re not asking to love the regulations against eating shellfish or the wearing of cotton-poly blends; we’re not asking to love laws about sexual purity and the place of women in society; we’re not asking to love not eating bacon or swearing oaths.  Instead, we’re asking God to help us love love, and we need God’s help because the stark reality is that love isn’t easy.  It can be hard to love God when things don’t go your way.  It can be even harder to love God when everything is coming up Milhouse.

And don’t get me started on how hard it is to love other people: liars, cheaters, close talkers, over sharers, bad drivers, even meeting extenders.  Maybe I don’t like this Collect so much after all.  I mean, asking God to help me love loving these people is asking for the hard work of cleaning out the sinfulness and selfishness in my own life to make room for others.  That seems pretty dangerous.  Of course, it all seems like exactly what God has in mind for us.

No More Questions

As October draws to a close, so too does our brief stop over in conflict land.  The ongoing and ever heightening debate between Jesus and the various religious powers-that-be in the Temple has had us dealing with difficult parables, theological nuance, and socio-political background.  At every turn, Jesus has silenced his interrogators with wisdom and conviction.  Finally, in the Gospel lesson for Proper 25A, he brings the conversation to an end.  The problem is, I can’t tell if it ends with a bang or with a whimper.

By now Jesus has silenced the Chief Priests, the Elders, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees: just about everybody who was anybody in First Century Israel. Not to be undone, and most likely because they were stuck in Matthew’s craw, the Pharisees come back for one more tête-à-tête.  Their final question, regarding the greatest commandment, we’ll deal with later in the week.  Suffice it to say for now that they seem to have given up on tricking Jesus by now.

In response, Jesus asks them one, final question.  “What do you think of the Messiah?  Whose son is he?”  Everybody knows the answer to that question.  Clearly the Messiah is the Son of David.  Jesus then quotes from Psalm 110:1 and finishes with these words, “If David thus calls him Lord, how can be be his son?”  Boom!?!  Fizz!?! Pflmpt…

Did Jesus do a Mic Drop?

Matthew tells us that no one was able to answer his question and that from then on, no one dared ask him anything else.  Why?  Were they as confused as I am about the whole interaction?  Were they amazed like they had been after the whole paying taxes encounter?  Did they finally realize there was no beating Jesus at his own game?  I honestly don’t know the answer here, so if any of my wise readers wants to weigh in, I’m glad to hear your thoughts.

Life’s Certainties – a sermon

Yesterday’s sermon is now available for your listening pleasure on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.

We’ve all heard the old saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  Benjamin Franklin wrote these words to his friend Jean-Baptiste Le Roy in November of 1789.  The American Constitution had just come into effect in January 1789, so Franklin was able to speak with some personal wisdom about taxes, and at 83 years of age and rapidly losing weight and energy, he was keenly aware of death.[1]  Though it really was little more than an aside in a personal letter to a friend overseas, this pithy phrase has taken on a life of its own.  Of course, it comes to mind every third year when we find ourselves back in the Temple as Matthew tells us the story of Jesus’ “taxing” conversation with the Pharisees and Herodians.

Our story begins, as most of our recent Gospel lessons have, with the understanding that Jesus was a wanted man.  You’ve heard me talk about it several times over the past month.  By now it should be clear that the religious powers-that-be wanted Jesus out of their hair for good.  His disciples had openly taunted Rome by comparing Jesus to Caesar during the parade on Palm Sunday.  He had cost them a day’s income by flipping the tables and running out the sacrifice sellers.  When they tried to challenge him on theological grounds, he humiliated them at every turn.  He was too annoying and had to go.  Which leads me to another pithy quote.

In 1870, Charles Dudley Warner wrote that “Politics makes strange bedfellows.[2]” He probably adapted the phrase from Shakespeare’s line, “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.[3]”  Both seem to apply in this case.  When Jesus flipped the tables in the Temple, he upended the political system that allowed for a relatively calm relationship between Israel and Rome.  The Romans loved and respected all things old, so when they took control of Israel in 63 BCE, they made several concessions for the ancient place, its people, and their religion.  Rather than require their new subjects to bow down to the Roman pantheon of gods, they allowed the Jews to continue to worship their God in their Temple, their way.  As long as the proper taxes were paid on time, the Romans didn’t interfere with how things got done in Jerusalem and most everyone was happy, except the poor, the outcast, widows, orphans, and, of course, Jesus.

Two groups stood to lose out big time if Jesus’ rebellion was allowed to take hold: the Pharisees and the Herodians.  The Pharisees, those who ensured that Temple worship went on properly despite all outside influences, hated Rome and everything it stood for, but they knew that Rome could take it all away if the people stopped paying their taxes.  The Herodians, those who argued that Roman occupation and the relative peace that came with it was actually good for Israel, knew that peace would not last if the people stopped paying taxes.  Despite their polar opposite political leanings, the fear of misery at the hand of Rome caused the Pharisees and the Herodians to join forces to trap Jesus.

“Tell us, what do you think, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”  That’s their question: as simple as it is cunning.  If Jesus answers no, then the Herodians can turn him over to Pilate on charges of treason against the emperor.  If he answers yes, then the Pharisees can stir up the crowds against him for suggesting subservience to a pagan worshipping, foreign power.  The trap is set.

Like I said a month ago, Jesus isn’t dumb.  When two groups as opposite as Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner join forces to shower you with praise and then ask you a question dripping with political implications, it isn’t hard to see that they are trying to trip you up.  Jesus, after railing against them for their hypocrisy, defers in answering their question for a just a minute.  “Let me see the coin used for the tax,” he says.  The average Jew paid lots of different taxes to Rome and to the Temple.  There were taxes on land, taxes on purchases, taxes on imports, and taxes due on the various feast days of the year.  The tax in question here is the Census Tax, a one penny per person tax owed to the Roman’s to help pay for the occupying forces in Israel.  The Romans were very kind to Israel on most things, but this Census Tax was pretty much a punch in the gut.  Not only were you required to pay a tax to pay for the soldier who made sure you paid your other taxes, but this tax had to be paid in Roman currency.  One Denarius Tiberius per person in your household.  Jesus didn’t have one of these coins.  Presumably the Pharisees didn’t either, since the coin itself was a violation of the first two commandments: “You shall worship no other god but me” and “make no icons or graven images.”

The front of the coin showed the image of the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, and declared him as “The August Tiberius Caesar, Son of the god Augustus.”  The reverse carried the image of Pax, the goddess of peace, whose cult was headed by the Emperor as high priest.  Everything about this coin was an abomination to a good Jew, and yet someone in the crowd was quick to produce one when Jesus asked.  He followed up with two questions, “Whose image is this?  Whose title does it bear?”  The answer is as obvious as it is condemning, “the Emperor’s.”

Here’s where Jesus finally answers their question, but not in the way we tend to think about it.  Most translations have Jesus saying something like, “Well then, give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  That’s a nice pithy quote from Jesus: kind of like death and taxes and strange bedfellows, but it doesn’t actually capture what Jesus is saying.  The Greek verb Jesus uses actually means to give back.  It is a subtle difference, but one worth paying attention to because it applies not just to the things of Caesar, but more importantly, to the things of God.  Jesus uses only one verb in this sentence.  “Give back to Caesar the stuff that belongs to him and to God what belongs to God.”  In both cases, Jesus notes that nothing we have is our own.  The coin used to pay the Census Tax was manufactured by and received its value from the Empire.  Money, be it a Roman coin or an American bill stamped with “In God we Trust” may seem like the result of our own hard work, but in reality, it only exists because we are a part of an economic system that declares it to be worth something.  If the Empire asks for it back in the way of taxes, Jesus says, then by all means give it back.

On the other hand, everything else, from the air we breathe to the lungs that transition it into our blood streams, is a gift from God.  Specifically, in his choice of language Jesus seems to point especially to the very gift of life itself.  With a nod to the first Creation story, Jesus reminds us that as humans we carry the imprint of God, having been made in his image.  Everything we have belongs to God and so our whole lives should be lived as a gift offered back to him, in thanksgiving for the blessings that we have received.  Giving back to God the things that belong to him doesn’t mean giving 10% to the Church, it means living a life of discipleship each and every moment.  It means thinking about our divine image when we shop, when we vote, when we eat, and yes, when we give to charity.  It means asking, in everything we do, is this bringing the giver of all good gifts honor and glory?  It means that death and taxes, while certain, do not have the last claim on our lives.  Instead, all of our certainty, all our hope, all our lives rest in God’s great gift of love.  A love which we are to offer back to God every moment of every day.  Amen.

[1] Albert Henry Smith, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin Vol X, 1789-1790 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1907), p. 68-69.

[2] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Charles_Dudley_Warner

[3] http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/strange-bedfellows

On Rendering

Did you know that if you type in a single word to the Google search engine, it will give you a full definition?  It comes in handy for a guy like me who likes to use fifty-cent words, but didn’t read much in high school or college or, well, life in general, and so I have to look them up.  I used it this morning to look up the word “render” because I knew of at least two meanings.  In fact, there are six for the verb form of the word.  My favorite definition ranks fifth on Google, “to melt down fat.”  Grilling and bacon cooking are made infinitely better because of rendering, but that isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he answered the question about paying taxes from the Pharisees and Herodians by saying, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (KJV)

More modern translations tell us that Jesus said to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” (NIV) which is a good translation of render, but not so much of what Matthew has Jesus actually saying.  The Greek verb which is translated as “render” or “give” is actually apodidomai,

give back

which means “to give back.”  It is a subtle difference, but one worth paying attention to because it applies not just to the things of Caesar, but more importantly, to the things of God since Jesus uses only one verb in the sentence.  “Give back to Caesar the stuff that belongs to him and give back to God what belongs to God.”  In both cases, Jesus notes that nothing we have is our own.  The coin, a Denarius Tiberius, used to pay the Census Tax was manufactured by and received it value from the Empire.  Money, be it a Roman coin or an American bill stamped with “In God we Trust” may seem like it comes by way of our own hard work, but in reality, it only exists because we are a part of an economic system that renders (definition #2) it worth something.  If the Empire asks for it back in the way of taxes, Jesus says, then give it back.

On the other hand, everything else, from the air we breathe to the lungs that transition it into our blood streams, is a gift from God.  Specifically, in his language Jesus seems to point especially to the very gift of life itself.  In what seems like an obvious reference to Genesis 1:26, Jesus reminds us that as humans we carry the image or icon of God.  We belong to God and so our whole lives should be lived as a gift offered back to God, in thanksgiving for the blessings that we have received.  This, of course, has huge ramifications.  It means that every decision we make: from what shoes to buy to what career path to follow to how much bacon to consume; is done with God’s gift of life and grace in mind.  Giving back to God the things that belong to him doesn’t mean giving 10% to the Church, it means living a life of discipleship each and every moment.

One Denarius Tiberius Please

Jesus once said that “The Son of Man has no where to lay his head,” and apparently, he didn’t carry any pocket change either.   Here, in the midst of yet another theological debate with the religious powers-that-be, this time the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus turns the conversation on its head.  They’ve asked him, you’ll recall, if it was proper for a Jew to pay taxes to Caesar, hoping that he’ll say “no” and be open to charges of treason or say “yes” and alienate most of his followers who were devout Jews who despised their Roman occupiers.  Jesus, after calling out the questioners for the hypocrisy, delays his answer by first asking to look at the coin with which the tax had to be paid.

This tax, as any number of scholars will tell you, was the Census Tax, a one penny per person tax that had to be paid by every non-Roman citizen every year in order to help fund their own occupation (talk about insult to injury).  Now, for the most part, Rome was fairly kind to the Jewish people.  Romans loved old things, and Judaism was old, so they respected the religion and for the most part allowed the Jewish people to continue their worship of YWHW and the keeping of their own religious law.  I said “for the most part” because in Sunday’s lesson, we find one glaring moment of disrespect.

Integral to that law were the 10 Commandments, which were handed down from God to Moses himself.  Commandments 1 and 2 required 1) no worship of other gods and 2) no graven images or idols.  Mostly, this was easy enough to handle, except when it came to paying the Census Tax.  It had to be paid by way of a Roman Denarius, which looked like this:

The front carried the image/icon of Tiberius Caesar, Emperor of Rome, with the inscription “The August Tiberius Caesar, Son of the god Augustus.”  The back shows the image/icon of a woman named Pax, the personified image of the Peace of Rome, and hails the Emperor as High Priest, pontifex maximus.  There is nothing about this coin that doesn’t violate the first 2 of the Big 10 Rules.

Jesus, a good Jewish Rabbi, doesn’t have one of these coins.  The Pharisees made their living keeping these coins out of the Temple.  The Herodians, Jews who like Rome and who you’ll recall have buddied up to their archnemeses in the Pharisees?  Well, you better believe they’ve got one.  Right there in the middle of the Temple, they’ve got a blasphemous coin, ready to show to Jesus.  What is striking is that Jesus doesn’t say “Aha!  Gotcha!”  He doesn’t gloat over them for having the coin.  Instead, the uses it as a teaching moment.  More on that tomorrow.