Of Caesar and God
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s.”
I thought this might be an interesting reading to look at this week with the political conventions happening over the next two weeks. The nominees vying for the support of the masses, other politicians trying for greater public recognition to booster their standing in their party and their chance of winning an election in November, delegates trying to make their place in history, and the press hanging onto every little detail trying to make a great story or fill the hours of broadcast time given to these events are all in the realm of “Caesar”. The conventions and the elections are about who will have the greatest power in the government and able to make the rules and conditions the masses must live by. They are the “Caesar’s’ of our country.
Some of them are among the “Pharisees” of our society. The Pharisees were like lawyers who focused on the letter of the Hebrew law. They didn’t like Jesus because he insisted the law should be used with compassion, empathy, and love. There could be laws that needed to be changed even broken because of a focus on these three. Jesus practiced civil disobedience. It’s part of the reason he was crucified. To question the law was to challenge the authority of the Hebrew and Roman ruling class. Which would you rather be like: the Pharisees or Jesus? Remember that Jesus’ civil disobedience didn’t look to hurt anyone.
All of that said, we actually need to look at the end of this passage to get the real focus of Jesus’ response. It’s both subtle and profound: “…and to God the things that are God’s”. What does belong to God? God is the creator of all things, so do all things belong to God? What about our sin? What about our participation in the political process?
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Human law which follows these commandments is of God. That which doesn’t is sinful and not of God. Our participation in the political process that follows these commandments is of God. That which doesn’t is sinful and not of God. Our reflection and discussion about these conventions and the political process need to be unselfish and focused on creating a government that is compassionate, empathetic, and loving. And remember the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37): our neighbors are also those who are nothing like us.
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