A good sermon from the blog of a Lutheran priest, the Rev. William Weedon, here:
[Proverbs 8:11-22 / Philippians 3:17-21 / Matthew 22:15-22]
I never liked fractions in school. Wretched things. I’m happy to report from today’s Gospel reading that our God is no fan of fractions either. Fractions run with us trying to see how much control we can keep for ourselves, and we do so out of fear. So the question to our Lord, the trap, about whether one ought pay taxes to Caesar. It’s a fraction question. How much does Caesar get?
Our Lord does the oddest thing when he asks for the coin. On it, of course, an image and an inscription. A picture and a name. Whose? He asks. They think He’s demented. Caesar’s of course.
Of course. So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God give back what is God’s.
Youch. For there’s the rub. We are rather like the coin, aren’t we? Made in God’s image and He has put His name on us as His very own. But we must confess that in our lives, the image is quite damaged, so much so that at times it would be quite hard to gauge what God is like by looking at us. Vindictive. Angry. Short-tempered. Always at work trying to preserve for ourselves our part of the fraction of life and trying to increase it – the part that we’re the Caesar of. Or that we like to think we are.
And there He stands. The very image of God in human flesh and blood. Or as St. Irenaeus put it: the visible of the Father. Look at Him and you see God straight the way He truly is. Here for once was a human being who didn’t run the fractions. He didn’t say that the Lord got some piece of Him and His neighbor got another piece of Him, and this part He had to keep back for Himself, for His own sanity, you know. No. He gave the lot to God and He gave the lot to His neighbor. No fractions. Wholly offered. Here was a human who never once said “no” to the will of the Father – even if He did have His “let me think that through one more time” moment in the garden of Gethsemane. In the end, it was a whole life, wholly offered from conception to birth, from youth to adulthood, from life to death. Not pieces, but the whole. And so the perfect image of God.
For God doesn’t do fractions. That’s why there had to be a new covenant. Under the old, recall as Krauth so marvelously pointed out, the Lord got His piece of the offering (sacrifice) and you got your piece (sacrament) and so it was all partim, partim. Piecemeal. Not whole. But the characteristic of the new covenant is that the lot is given to God and the lot is given to you. Whole. Indivisible.
So the Eucharist. He doesn’t play fractions there. It’s not like Fielding gets a toe and Walther an ounce of blood. Rather, in a mysterious way, as our Lord wholly gave Himself to the Father throughout His life and most especially on the Cross, so here in the Eucharist He wholly gives Himself to you, body and blood, humanity, divinity, the whole to each and so a perfect, finished salvation made your own.
And so He would enliven you from your fractioned way of living into His wholeness. It is quite similar to what happened with the loaves and the fish. Recall that starts with some hard fractions – five divided by twelve. A bit a bread in each disciples hand. They had to learn a lesson with it: if in fear of not having enough for themselves, they held onto their fraction, what would they have at the end of the day? Only that measly little 5 divided by 12 piece of loaf. But because they dared to step out at the Lord’s bidding into the divine economy what did they end up with? Each got a basket full. Nonsense to our reason. You can’t divide and end up with that. You can’t give it all away and have more left over than you started with. It’s mathematical nonsense. But that is what happened: they gave it all away. And to give it all away in the divine economy is never to turn up the loser, but always to find out that with the Lord there is more than you could ever dare dream. The only way to turn up the loser in the divine economy is to try to keep your little fraction for yourself. Recall the unfortunate man who tried to safeguard his fraction, his one talent, by burying it in the napkin.
The martyrs got that. They realized that if their whole lives were given up, they still had more life dished back at them than they’d ever be able to use in an eternity. The Lord’s own self-offering, whole and complete, answered by resurrection shows the way it goes with God.
But meanwhile we live in a fallen world, a fractioned world, and so it is piecemeal with us. But it is piecemeal growing towards wholeness. The Large Catechism works the fractions to completeness when it says that living out your Baptism results in: “anger, hate, envy, unchastity, stinginess, laziness, arrogance, yes unbelief” all must daily “decrease” and in contrast the growth within of the gifts of God so that the longer we live the more “gentle, patient, meek” we become. On this sliding scale the old Adam garbage finally is unfractioned by reaching a zero: “daily decreases until he finally perishes” and then all that’s left is the image of God stuff. Whole, entire. A life that is nothing but love.
If you are the coin, the Lord is at work polishing you and clearing off the crud and retracing the image. So that when people look at you they begin to see ever more clearly something of the God who gives all and holds nothing back so that His people can find life with Him in His way of being – total pouring out of self resulting in a life that is more than any fraction we might try to hold on for ourselves.
Satan loves for you to dwell on the fractions of your life. He likes you to exaggerate the new self and to diminish the
old Adam. With our Lord, it’s totally different. He invites us to look to Him to see what we shall be when the work He has begun in us is finally brought to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, the day the coin is completely restored and shines with the luster and glory of the image He has retraced upon it, when our lives are given back to God not in any piece or fraction, but whole; the day when God will be all in all, and to Him alone will be the glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the Ages of Ages. Amen.