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Give to God the things that are God’s

Matthew 22:15-22

[Mt 22:15] Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. [16] And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. [17] “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” [18] But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? [19] “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. [20] And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” [21] They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” [22] And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. (NAS)

Matthew 22:15-18

[Mt 22:15] Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. [16] And they *sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. [17] “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” [18] But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? (NAS)

Evils binding power

Nothing binds evil intentions like the common hatred of something or someone that is good. The Pharisees and the Herodians had a deep hatred for each other—but a deeper-seated hatred for Jesus. The Pharisee’s were legalists who looked down upon any who might compromise their version of religion. The Herodians were pragmatics who regarded the Pharisee’s as simpletons. The Pharisees were against the Roman occupation of Israel while the Herodians supported Herod who was a puppet king of the Roman Emperor.

One of their primary areas of disagreement was paying taxes to Rome. The Pharisees held the populist opinion that paying taxes was religious hypocrisy while the Herodians benefited from the tax system of Rome. It was not difficult to see that both groups felt that by corroborating they could trap Jesus. If Jesus said, “Don’t pay taxes,” the Herodians could have him arrested for sedition. If Jesus said, “Pay taxes,” then the Pharisees would denounce him as a traitor to God’s people.

They were two completely opposing groups bound together by a hatred of the revealing truth of Jesus Christ. One group was ideological committed more to their opinion than to God or his people. The other group was pragmatic more committed to political networking than leading by values. Combined, they excused each other’s “excesses” for the sake of a common enemy; the truth. In this reading both parties dined at the same feast and fed each other candied fancies and the drugged wine of power.

The Herodians and the Pharisees serve not as “bad guys” from the past that we can boo whenever they enter from stage right. They are the potential sinner in each of us today. It is spiritually dangerous to look at any person or group of people and say; “I am glad I am not like them.” Instead, we must ask; “When do I act like that? When do I judge others and excuse my own sinfulness?”

Self-righteous anger comes from ugliness deep within our own souls, we all have the potentiality for it. It is an indication of my weakness and never my strength. The pathology of self-righteousness begins when I think my needs are sacrosanct. It is when my sole concern is based around: “What about me?” “What about my rights?” “What about my self-interests?”

At that point in time I don’t care about the rights of others. The ideologue (Pharisee) in me combines with the pragmatist (Herodian) and I will do anything to get my way. My motto is: “The ends will justify the means.” The two entities within me combine to justify my own sinfulness and undermine others. The Pharisee goes about seeking the offense of others—the Herodian seeks to justify my actions.

The hardest response for each of us is to walk away from these sinful tendencies and respond as Jesus did: “Give the worldly stuff to Caesar, give your heart to God.”

Jesus knew we would also face such attacks as long as we stood by his values. Such attacks are age-old and scripture gives us refreshing advice on how to handle such attacks.

Proverbs 26:4-12

[Prov 26:4] Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. [5] Answer a fool as his folly {deserves} lest he be wise in his own eyes. [6] He cuts off {his own} feet, {and} drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool. [7] {Like} the legs {which} hang down from the lame, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. [8] Like one who binds a stone in a sling, so is he who gives honor to a fool. [9] {Like} a thorn {which} falls into the hand of a drunkard, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. [10] {Like} an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by. [11] Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. [12] Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (NAS)

Matthew 5:11-12

[Mt 5:11] “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. [12] “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NAS)

Matthew 10:16

[Matt 10:16] “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (NAS)

Matthew 10:19-20

[Mt 10:19] “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. [20] “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (NAS)

Luke 21:13-15

[Luke 21:13] “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. [14] “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; [15] For I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” (NAS)

Colossians 4:6

[Col 4:6] Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, (as it were) with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (NAS)

What have we got to do with earthly struggles for power and position? Why would we seek to be vested in this world? In his story of the “Grand Inquisitor,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, says the first temptation of Christ could be summed up as: “Take my liberty; give me bread.” How often have I sold my liberty for Caesar’s bread? For Caesar’s influence? For Caesar’s trinkets? In essence, Jesus once again faces Satan through the guise of the religious leaders and once again he boldly proclaims: “Take your bread, Caesar, I have God’s liberty.”

The depth of deception

The Pharisees and Herodians knew that Jesus would recognize them and see through their trap. They were even concerned that Jesus would make fools of them once again. This certainly reveals the nature of their spirit. These were backbiters and bullies not men seeking to share or gain truth. I am most like them when I am brave in private and silent in public. They knew they were out of their league with Jesus Christ. So, instead of confronting him personally (risking further humiliation), they sent out students in their stead. “Surely,” they surmised, “his guard will be lowered at the prospect of young disciples seemingly seeking the truth.”

I have dealt with drug dealers who would send out children to do their worst deeds letting kids take the wrap for their vices. That’s the kind of men these Pharisee’s and Herodians were, sinful people just like me.

Well-trained liars

What do you do in a culture where elders teach their pupils to lie? The message taught is clearly: “Get what you need at all costs, lie if you have to, just sugar it with enough truth to swallow.”

The political world of the Pharisees and the Herodians was less than forty years from complete destruction. Was it any wonder that the next generation would be scattered like dust? Yet consider this, if you (like me) are concerned with the shape of our youth then examine the quality of their mentors. Without quality mentors and personal examples of integrity and faith we cannot expect the next generation to develop morality via osmosis. As more and more children are raised by programs, peers and the media, less and less of them will be steeped in the values that formulated some of the basic principles of integrity and respect.

The brood of trained snakes that surrounded Jesus on that day were trained by the world’s slickest liars. They were so good at it that they fooled themselves into believing their cause was righteous. However, they were totally unable to see beyond their own motivation: Flattery. They began their questioning not as practiced attorneys but like ingratiating school children seeking an extra dessert at lunch time. Their plan of attack was sweet talk and feigned innocence. Yet, it completely failed upon the Son of God. Such verbiage never has an impact on someone whose authority is in God and not in other people’s opinions. Their platitudes didn’t lower our Lord’s guard, they raised it. The wiles of men were wasted on him. He was not about to trade his salvation for the false respect of man. “You can keep Caesar’s bread; I’ll take God’s liberty.”

Matthew 22:19-22

[19] “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. [20] And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” [21] They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” [22] And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. (NAS)

The Face of God

The Emperor’s face was on the front of the coin that (like a knife’s blade) was handed to Jesus. Underneath the Emperor’s image were the words; “divine, chief priest.” It was the ultimate in human pride that the Caesar’s insisted they be worshipped as gods. This, of course, repulsed the Jewish people, yet they didn’t reject the public works, the roads, and the political protection of the Roman Empire.

Our Lord begins, as He always does with those who are judgmental, by pointing out their own hypocrisy. The question that Jesus asks is a much larger one for us than just; “Who is on the face of this coin?” It is not just about respecting the laws of the land as we are often encouraged to do by biblical writers.

Romans 13:6-8

[Rom 13:6] For because of this you also pay taxes, for {rulers} are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. [7] Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax {is due;} custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. [8] Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled {the} law. (NAS)

Our question is much deeper; “When do we accept the pleasures of sin and yet deny its consequences?”

The man with empty pockets

The underlying threat of the pragmatic Herodians was that Rome will take what we are supposed to give (and more) if we don’t offer our taxes in due time. Alternatively, Jesus had a radical suggestion that even the Pharisee’s had not considered in their attempts to live the perfectly lawful life. Jesus had the only way to free them from their concern regarding money and taxes should they would choose His path:

Matthew 19:21

[Matt 19:21] Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go {and} sell your possessions and give to {the} poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (NAS)

The word “complete” is also the word for perfect. The term does not mean to be spotless or blameless; it means to be completely attentive. “Telios [NT:5046]” was the term and it meant to be perfectly focused on a longer vision—like a telescope. There is a beautiful irony in realizing that the Son of God did not even carry a purse in his belt and actually had to ask someone else for a coin. Jesus overcomes the two inevitabilities of life! Not only did he overcome death, but, he also overcame taxes. If you don’t have any money, you don’t have to pay taxes.

The person who is in debt only to God is the person who is “perfectly” free.

In God We Trust

On the face of our Nation’s coin is the saying; “In God we trust.” The term was placed upon a number of coins during the Civil War. At the time, deep concern was expressed over the nation’s ability to remain intact through the embittered years ahead. The first official appeal for the change to the coin was sent to Secretary Salmon P. Chase in a letter dated November 13, 1861. It was written by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, and read:

Dear Sir:

You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.

This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.

To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.

In response, Secretary Chase informed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia to develop a motto. The letter was drafted on November 20, 1861 and read:

Dear Sir:

No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.

Finally, in January of 1867, the mottoes were placed upon coins of the United States.

At first it was just a few coins, primarily one-cent, two-cent and three-cent coins, but with the expansion of the communist threat in the 1950’s, President Eisenhower asked that the motto be extended to paper money as well.
Since then, the motto has been under constant attack (primarily by former Oregonian atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hare and others of the group she founded: American Atheists). Having been unable to prevent the use of the motto in court, they encourage atheists to black out the “In God We Trust” statement on the bottom of paper money with magic markers.

E Pluribus Gibberish

American Atheists promote placing “E Pluribus Unum” upon all our coinage; “One from many.” I suppose their anger upon seeing the name of God upon money is equivalent to the anger experienced by the Jews seeing Caesar declaring himself God on their coins. Their platform also seeks to remove “One nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and to prevent Presidents from being sworn in by placing their hand on the bible.

As Christians, we are not called to add to God’s banquet table by subjugation or force. If God wanted that to happen—he could very well take care of it himself. However, there is a deeper question we must ask of ourselves in reference to the statement found in our Pledge of Allegiance, in the Pledge of Office and on our coins.

We have found that removing faith from our classrooms has not increased character development, personal integrity or values either on the playground or in our children’s development. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The targeted bias against Judeo-Christian values has created a proliferation of “substitutionary” religions and immorality in our culture. In essence, we took away the vaccine—but not the virus. We left our children totally exposed.

Like so many other relativistic drivel and misguided spiritualist theology, we have not offered values to our children—but vacuums. Our children have no compass points because the adults who surround them have no compass points. “Whatever feels right…” “Do what you need to do in order to get what you need to have.”

“One from many,” is exactly the type of psycho-babble that seems to say something when in fact it says nothing. The implication is that whatever the crowd is doing is the right thing to do. That’s not leadership—that’s peer pressure. That is exactly the type of pressure we tell our kids to ignore while succumbing to it ourselves.

Why not instead print; “E pluribus gibberish (out of many comes gibberish)?” What the many have to say is not what I want my children to follow. I don’t believe we want to raise our children with a “what will the neighbors think” mentality. Is it not more important to raise children who are empathic about human concerns and emphatic about what God values?

Yet, in the end, we must all realize that the point of this story of Christ is that it is more offensive to God to profess his name and not live out that profession. I can wear a T-Shirt that proclaims, “In God I trust.” But, if my life is filled with deceit, half-truths and manipulation, than I am an abomination before the Lord. Are the words “In God I trust” written on my life? Could someone read my actions and see God’s face? It is time for me to say with Jesus: “These coins belong to Caesar; my life belongs to God.”

Beyond a motto

Yet, I wonder what it would be like if we had the face of a conquering enemy on our paper bills. Then, we might be reminded (as were these Jews) of the cost of becoming dependent on false gods. Sin is much easier to conquer when it is “in our face” than when it is like elevator music lulling us to sleep.

Personally, I credit atheists with doing me a favor whenever they deface public property by crossing out “In God we trust.” They remind me of how frail the nation was at one time and what it took to keep it from being torn asunder. They remind me that the real enemy of a people is never external (external enemies tend to fortify a common group)—the real enemy will always be internal and eternal. Atheism is not the problem that undermines our faith today; it is the relativism of believers who seek to fit into a culture that undermines faith.

Revelation 3:15-17

15 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

The term; “In God we trust,” is rooted in two scriptures:

2 Corinthians 1:9

[9] Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. (NAS)

1 Timothy 4:10

[10] For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (NAS)

We carry in our pockets a potent reminder of who we should be completely dependent upon and where we should place our total trust. Some people carry a cross in their pocket or a prayer reminder in their purse—but all we really need to do is reflect upon:

  • The reason “In God we trust” exists on our currency
  • The suffering that led to it’s placement on our legal tender
  • Those martyred in our world in the name of our Lord
  • And the scriptures to which “In God we trust” points

If we just paused and prayed on those ideals before spending the money in our possession it would remind us of our Lord’s preeminence and to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

The Cost of trust

In many cultures the cost of placing one’s trust in God is incredibly high—it can even cost people their lives. This is why mottoes and slogans like “In God we trust” and “One nation under God” should deeply remind us of the cost of our faith.
Look at the cost of faith to these early saints:

Daniel 3:16-18

[Dan 3:16] Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. [17] “If it be {so,} our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [18] “But {even} if {He does} not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (NAS)

Acts 4:18-20

[Acts 8:18] And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. [19] But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; [20] for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” (NAS)
Our nation has not always adhered to the values of these pledges. Understanding that is the difference between a patriot and a nationalist. A nationalist blindly believes anything his nation chooses to do—while a patriot believes in the essence of his nation and stands by those values regardless of the circumstances. Do we trust in God if we don’t live by his principles? If compassion and peace are not forefront on our agenda? If raising the poor from poverty and protecting the widow and orphan are not priorities, can we say that we are “under God” or that “In God we trust?”

Give to God what belongs to God

Central to this reading is not only giving to Rome what is Rome’s but Jesus points us to the less obvious counter-statement, are we giving to God what belongs to God? The Old Testament tells us that we must give our first fruit and tithe to God:

Numbers 18:12-13

12 All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you.

So, to a Christian, what do we have that belongs to God?

Malachi 3:8-9

[Mal 3:8] “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. [9] “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation {of you}”

Jesus, in fulfilling the law, tells us that we owe God much more than a “percentage” of our earnings. In fact, our first fruits and tithes should only remind us of what we owe God. What does one give to a King who bought our salvation at the cost of His own Son’s life? Jesus reminds us what God deserves:

Matthew 22:37

[Matt 22:37] And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (NAS)

Yet, we don’t give our tithes and our lives to God for his sake. Quite the opposite; the more we give to God—the more God blesses us. Not with material things (though God is certainly capable of that); God blesses us with a joy for living. The more we give to him; the more we find that “he is enough” and that we don’t need more. We are “content in all circumstances” as Paul writes under Roman persecution.

Philippians 4:11-13

[Phil 4:11] Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. [12] I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. [13] I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (NAS)

In essence the more we give to him, the fuller our lives become. The disciples gave everything even though they had such an incomplete understanding of the Lord’s bounty prior to Pentecost. They witnessed many great things and yet, they also witnessed the world’s persecution of the Son of God. There were times when they no doubt wondered; “What is the reward for following the Christ?”

Jesus knew their trials and left them (and us) with this promise:

Mark 10:25-31

[Mark 10:25] “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” [26] And they were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” [27] Looking upon them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” [28] Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” [29] Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, [30] but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. [31] “But many {who are} first, will be last; and the last, first.” (NAS)

Who is on the face of my coins (the reason I commit to work everyday)? Am I committed to earning wages to keep in my own pocket or do I realize that everything I make can contribute to the glory of God’s kingdom? All that I earn is truly given to me by God; am I using it to do his will? To bring about his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” Can I resist the temptation for personal pleasure, self-aggrandizement or worldly power that consumed these religious leaders?

Herein lies the central sin of both the Herodians and the Pharisees. Politics was not their central issue, justice was not their central issue, money wasn’t even their central issue; remaining in power was their central issue. The Pharisees excused their sin by pointing to others and saying, “At least I am better than them.” The Herodians excused their sin by saying, “Well, no one is perfect and you have to be realistic.” Will my voice be like theirs or like Zaccheus redeemed:

Luke 19:8-10

8 And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” 

By the time Zaccheus would finish paying his debts he would have nothing left… except for Jesus! The question for each of us is not “what” we will have left at the end of this life, but “who.”

Blamers and Excusers!

The Pharisee’s and the Herodian’s aren’t the “Bad Boys” of old—they are the sinners within me today! Who owns my heart, soul and mind? What keeps me from being able to give to God what is truly his to begin with? What prevents me from giving my all for his all? Which part of my heart do I justify closing off to him? That is where my Pharisee and Herodian conspire against the Lord.

I need to look into the change purse of my own heart and see the coinage to which I cling. Can I honestly say; “In God I trust?”

Or, is it more like: “In this money I trust?” “In Jerry I trust.” “In ______ I trust.”

What or who is on the face of my coin?

About the Author

Jerry Goebel is a community organizer who started ONEFamily Outreach in response to gang violence and youth alienation in a rural community in Southeastern Washington. Since that time, Jerry has worked with communities around the globe to break the systemic hold of poverty by enhancing the strengths of the poor.

A primary philosophy of ONEFamily Outreach is to teach; “poverty is a lack of healthy relationships.” And, a primary focus of ONEFamily Outreach has been to break down the barriers of poverty through creating “cultures of intentional courtesy.”

As well as having developed ongoing mentoring outreaches in his own community, Jerry travels extensively to work with church leaders, community governments, and educators.

Jerry has received five popular music awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a Best Educational Video Award from the National Catholic Education Association, and a lifetime achievement award from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry for living Gospel Values.

To contact or book Jerry for a presentation in your area write or call:

Jerry Goebel
ONEFamily Outreach
(509) 525-0709

Copyright Notice

Copyright © 2007 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved.  This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2007 ©

Scripture Quotations noted from NASB are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION of the bible. Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. (

The New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.” These files are public domain.

The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the “Theological Word Book of the Old Testament.” These files are considered public domain.

NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries. Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved. (

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