My topic today is hypocrisy. In today’s Gospel Jesus points at the Pharisees and says, “You are hypocrites!” They are cruel and vicious while pretending to be friendly and kind. On one hand they are praising Jesus and saying nice things about him. On the other they want to hurt him. They want to hurt his reputation by setting a trap for him. They praise Jesus while secretly wanting to hurt him. They do this by coming at him with a loaded question. They think that he will look bad no matter which answer he gives to their loaded question.
So, they ask Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus says that you do not have to pay taxes to Caesar, he will make Caesar mad and it will sound like he is calling for a revolt against Caesar. If Jesus says that you must pay taxes to Caesar, he will make his own people mad because they don’t like Caesar. They despise Caesar because he conquered their country and took away many of their freedoms. It’s no fun being ruled by a foreign king.
So how did Jesus respond to their trap? He said, “Give to both God and Caesar. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.”
Jesus brought a new element into the discussion. He brought God into the discussion. The Pharisees were focusing on one person. They were focusing on Caesar. God was not in their picture. Jesus was thinking about two persons: Caesar and God. Pay your dues to Caesar and pay your dues to God. We pay our dues to Caesar by paying our taxes. We render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and then we render unto to God what is God’s. We offer God worship and glory and praise as we are doing in church today.
Several months earlier, Jesus had said that the Pharisees are hypocrites. They are like cups which are clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. The Pharisees are deeply concerned about external cleanliness. They have developed intricate rituals for washing their hands and cups and kettles. They have created purification rites which give them ritual purity. They have external purity. But they are not pure on the inside because they are full of self-indulgence and lacking in compassion.
They are merciless in their contempt for the lepers, the outcasts, the sick, the sinners and the tax collectors. There is no compassion in their hearts. They look holy on the outside but they are selfish and they are not holy on the inside.
And now for the hard part. When we are fully honest, we must confess that sometimes we are hypocrites. When we are fully honest we say that we are both sinful and blessed. Although those words are true, we find it difficult to name our sins and to talk about our sinfulness.
We find it difficult because we live in the modern world and our modern culture questions whether sin even exists anymore. The world says that everything is relative, and every value has equal weight on the scales of balance. If we buy into that philosophy, we see no evil and we believe that we can do no evil. So how are we going to know what our sins are?
This is where the Bible can help us. Whenever we read the Scriptures the Word of God reveals our sinfulness to us. The Bible reminds us that we have an inborn selfish spirit, and we find it difficult to be generous and to share with others. We cling to our worldly possessions. We see what the gospel is calling for; but we hold back. We see the cost of discipleship and we pull back and we turn away. We are committed to following the gospel. But only in a partial, half-hearted way. We are generous but not deeply generous. - and that is one of our sins.
So, the scriptures help us to discover our sinfulness. They help us to name the truth about ourselves so that we can stay away from being hypocrites. The Word of God reveals to us how sinful we are. But it also reveals to us how blessed we are.
The gospel proclaims that God loves us so much that he sent His son to lead us into eternal life. In other words, the Bible helps us to see that we are simultaneously sinful and blessed. Now that sounds like a contradiction: simultaneously sinful and blessed. But it is not a contradiction……Rather, it is a paradox. One of the mysteries of the spiritual life.
St. Paul says it best in Romans, chapter 5: “While we were still weak and sinful, Christ died for us.” While we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Thus, God saves us while we are sinning. God does not wait until we reform. Yes, sin and grace co-exist in our hearts - but not on equal terms. Sin has some power; but grace is much more powerful. That is the message that our missionaries bring to the world.
Thus, if we are honest, we will say that we are both sinful and blessed. And if we are fully honest, we will proclaim that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is more powerful than any of the sinfulness we have lurking within. We pray now for the grace we need to proclaim the truth that we are both sinful and blessed. And we pray for the grace to remember that God’s blessing is much more powerful than our sin.