The book of Ezra tells us how God’s Old Testament people came home from their 70-year captivity in Babylon. They return home to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. Foundations are laid. Hymns are sung. There are shouts of joy mingled with tears over why all this was necessary in the first place.
But now some years went by. People got busy with other things. Plowing their fields. Building their houses. Paving the streets. Making money. It was good to be home again, free again, feeling some sort of “normal” again.
Between family get-togethers and sprucing up their new houses, they hardly noticed. There was no current crisis to get their attention. You know…God’s house…the temple…weeds were growing around the foundation…they just never got back to it…the very center of their worship which pointed ahead to Him who would tabernacle among us…the temple where God promised to meet with them…unfinished…really!?
Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord recites the people’s excuses: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’ ”
“Oh, really,” says the Lord. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin? Do you think I do not see how you spend most of what I have loaned you on yourselves, on your creature comforts? Do you think I do not hear those little comments about how you “owe it” to yourself to live in homes your grandparents could not have imagined, how you “talk poor” while buying the latest toys – while any old shack or no shack at all is good enough for the God of your salvation?
“My child, I know you can’t put water in the gas tank or rocks in the refrigerator. I know you need to eat, stay warm, care for your family, pay your taxes. I am the One who knows what it is to shiver in the night air of a stable, to feel the rumbling of My stomach in the wilderness, to bear the loneliness of Gethsemane and the thirst of the cross.
“My child, you plant much and harvest little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink but it does not satisfy your real thirst. Your clothes don’t keep you warm. You cash your paycheck and your purse has holes in it!”
God has given us only one thing, truly for keeps and forever. He has given us the one Gift that cost Him a broken heart and a miserable death. He has given us Himself, carried our sorrows to a cross, gone to the grave and come back again to say: “I am with you always.” To Him alone we can truly say: “Thou art mine!” “Jesus, Priceless Treasure!”
In our familiar text from St. Mark, Jesus says: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We are all quite acquainted with “rendering to Caesar” every April 15th. But it is also our joy and privilege to render to God the things that are God’s. We shall never out-give Him. Yet only those who believe this discover it is so.