When my son was 5, he overheard my husband and I talking about an interesting parenting situation one of our friends found herself in. Her daughter refused to pick up her toys, so the friend told her she needed to go to her room. The daughter replied: “You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of the house. Daddy is!” We were amused by the daughter’s misguided attempt to avoid getting in trouble and also a bit confused about where she came up with the idea that her father had more authority than her mother. When we saw our son had come into the room, we asked him if he thought there was a “boss” in our house. He smiled and quickly replied, “God is in charge of our house!”
In Sunday school classes and worship services, we often talk about God being the ruler of all. But what does this mean to our youngest disciples? In this lesson, you and your children will use Matthew 22:15-22 as a springboard for exploring the idea of God’s sovereignty.
Begin the time with your children by asking each of them to get three things that belong to them. You can also collect three items that you consider yours. Ask your children how they know that each item belongs to the person holding it. Note that we all think of particular things as being “ours.” We talk about our house, our school, even our church. When we connect or identify with something, we consider it “ours.”
Prepare to read aloud Matthew 22:15-22. To provide context for the reading, explain to your children that there was a group of religious leaders, the Pharisees, who were concerned that many people were listening to and following Jesus. It bothered them that Jesus was teaching people that some of the rules and activities the Pharisees thought were very important didn’t matter all that much. They tried many different things to get people to believe Jesus’ messages weren’t true. They even tried to trick him into saying something that could get him into big trouble with the law. This is the story of their attempt to trick Jesus.
As you read the passage, it may be helpful to define a few of the words used in the passage, including denarius. The denarius is one of the coins that would have been used by the people in Jesus’ community. This coin, like American coins, had a picture of a famous person on it. While our coins feature past leaders, the denarius had the head of the current Roman ruler on it. This is particularly important in this story because Rome believed its rulers were gods on earth.
After reading the passage, focus in on verse 21. Ask your children what they think Jesus is saying here. Because his statement is somewhat of a riddle aimed at both sharing his message and avoiding breaking the law, it may be confusing to your children, especially if they are younger. Explain that on the one hand, Jesus is saying that the coins belong to the emperor because his picture is on them. For this reason, the people should use the coins to pay their taxes to the emperor. On the other hand, Jesus is saying what is God’s belongs to God. Jesus knew that the people believed that God is the ruler of all. God created everything, so everything belongs to God. The bigger message Jesus is sharing is that everything, even these coins that seem to belong to the emperor, are really God’s.
Continue to explore the idea of God having dominion over all of creation by connecting this idea to your children’s lives. Based on your children’s age and interests, work on one of these activities to help bring this idea home to them:
- Gather a piece paper, scissors, and markers or crayons. Ask your child to cut a large circle out of the piece of paper. Tell her that this circle is the world. Then ask her to draw or write all the things that are in the world that belong to God. As the circle fills up, note the diversity of life that is God’s.
- As an alternative to the activity above, ask your child to draw or write in the circle all of the things God does for or with creation that show God’s commitment to the world. This is a good extension activity for older children because it encourages them to think about how they know God is present in the world.
- Gather a globe, scissors, tape, and markers or crayons. Explain that the globe represents the whole entire world and everything in it. All of this is God’s. Cut the paper into small squares. Ask your child to write or draw something belonging to God on each of the squares. Tape these squares on your globe to show the magnitude and diversity of all that is in God’s dominion.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.