Then the Tea Party leaders got together, conspiring to entrap Jesus on the record. So they sent in some of their representatives along with a few Senators.
They said, “Professor, we know how sincere and godly and truthful you are, and how you tell it like it is, and how impartial you are with people. So, tell us what you think about this: Is the federal income tax constitutional, or not?”
Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you pestering me with this, you hypocrites? Show me a dollar bill.” So they showed him a dollar bill. And he said, “Whose picture is on this? Who does it say that is there?”
“Washington,” they said.
“Give to Washington what belongs to Washington, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this they were dumbfounded. So they left him and went away.
Rarely does the original context mirror the modern one so perfectly. Even to the point that people who confuse church and state for the same thing continue to be dumfounded by Jesus telling them, then and now, that they are worlds apart.
Your religion is your own business. If you’re using your religion as a way to impress people, God won’t have anything to do with you.
So, when you make charitable gifts, don’t insist on having a plaque dedicated in your honor. Talk about being a hypocrite! So they have a plaque, big deal! That’s all they have, really. But when you make a charitable contribution, just do it and shut up. The gift carries its own sublime reward.
And when you pray, don’t think that having a TV show or radio ministry makes your prayers better than anyone else’s. Talk about feeding your own ego! So they have a TV show, big deal! That’s all they have, really. But when you pray, just keep it to yourself. God can hear and answer you without the aid of a radio tower.
And when you make some kind of sacrifice, don’t go around making a big to-do about it. Talk about being a drama queen! So they put themselves out a little bit, big deal! That’s the end of it, really. But when you give up something, keep the rest of yourself together and don’t whine about it. Remember that “sacrifice” means you’re doing it for the greater good, and that’s good enough.
All Jesus is saying here is what the rest of us were thinking. Put it this way: of all the plaques that were being dedicated in Jesus’ day, how many of them are still being read today? How many radio shows have come and gone in just the last generation? And how many sacrifices have been made that, in spite of all the publicity given them at the time, we can’t call to mind a year later.
Gifts with strings attached aren’t really gifts, and (though you can fool some people for a while) if it’s really all about you, it pretty much dies when you do. There’s a reason why they call it “15 minutes of fame.”
The truth is that while religion may motivate doing good things – giving to charity, prayer, and consideration for others – the motivation doesn’t make the action itself any better. And, using religion as a way of proving to everyone just how good you are is really sending the message that you think you’re better than someone else. It’s a really annoying message because (a) it’s not true, and (b) nobody cares about your ego.
Sure, Joel Osteen may attract a few thousand people to his church on any given Sunday, and have several thousand more who watch him on TV. But Jesus wants to know, when the message is, “Look at me! And if you can be as religious as I am, you can have what I have,” then so what?”
On the other hand, if you give, pray, and sacrifice without the fanfare, the people who really matter – and, if you’re religiously motivated, God – will take note.