Monday, June 8, 2009

Give to Caesar...

Firstly, let's be clear about what this story is not saying. It's not saying 'don’t give your money to the church', though I've never heard anyone give that interpretation. It's also not saying that the church should not be involved in politics. There was no such thing as the separation of church and state in the 1st century (actually such a concept has not existed for most of history!) Christian faith can never be just personal – it is always political.

This is one of four stories in Matthew's gospel that reflect Jesus in conflict with Jewish leaders: Pharisees (lay fundamentalists), Herodians (monarchists), and Sadducees (priestly aristocracy). Refusal to pay the imperial tribute tax to Rome was an act of defiance against the ruling government (a crime attributed to the Zealots). The question raised is 'Will Jesus side with the people or the authorities?' The Jewish people of Jesus' time knew something about the perils of living under imperial rule. Their ancestors had experienced life under the empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Macedonia. Roman rule was no more merciful when it came to challenging their authority. Of course, Jesus is in trouble either way but most of us know that he ends up crucified which suggests where Jesus' alliances stand.

The picture above is of a Roman silver denarius bearing the image of Tiberius. The Latin inscription reads "Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus". Son of God, Lord and Saviour were all titles applied to the emperor – what does it mean to apply them to Jesus? Quite simply it's a radical and revolutionary claim that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.
Remember the presence of the money changers in the temple? No one was supposed to carry a coin into the temple that claimed that Caesar was God. Out of respect for Jewish law, coins minted by Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas did not have images of Caesar and these could be exchanged to avoid offence. Yet Jesus’ accusers are able to produce one of the blasphemous coins at his request – not only does Jesus avoid their trap, but entraps them symbolically in return.

The story also reminds us that the Hebrew scriptures tell us that we are made in God’s image. Therefore in this context, giving God’s things to God is about giving ourselves. This is why we uphold Human Dignity in The Salvation Army. This is why we respond with Compassion to people in need. Anything which stops us from being whole, loving and complete human beings mars God’s image in us. It renders us less able to give back to God that which belongs to God.
What is the inscription upon us? What is the story that you are telling with your life? Proverbs and Jeremiah remind us that not only the laws and commands of God, but love also should be written “on the tablet of our heart”.


David said...

When I read this passage, I somehow think what a lot of nonsense passes for church. How can Christians have missed community so badly that they become a worse case example of what community should not be?

No, better to have tithing rules, pander to emotional states and take a slightly patronising approach to the marginalised. And make the feast out of packet soup mixes and tinned baked beans.

JDK said...

Hi David,

Shame you didn't stay for lunch when you visited Brunswick. You would have experienced something quite different.

Actually, it's only the churches that I see who are demonstrating any kind of real commitment to an accepting community for the poor and the marginalised. For all the bravado and bluster of the new atheists, I am yet to see Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens feeding the homeless or caring for people with HIV/AIDS.

Regards, JDK

Nicky said...

Well said, Jase

David, you still haven't explained to me what great contribution you are making to society. Yes, you may rid the world of Christianity, but for all your words, there's is seemingly no meaning or purpose or constructive action. Again, at least our understanding of faith drives us to try and make the world a better place but your's seems only to be destructive.

Again, I hope you find some peace and meaning in your quest.


Jack said...

Jason, the comments that you make regarding the church having a commitment to the poor and marginalised perhaps best answer why I cannot completely 'let go' of Christianity. Not than I am greatly involved in providing these types of things, but the love and care that I see within my church community to those inside and outside of it is why I want to remain a part of it. The unconditional love displayed by many Christians is a powerful thing, and whilst I think Christianity may ultimately be delusional thinking, that delusion provides great motivation for doing good in this world. I hope that makes some sense.

JDK said...

It makes a lot of sense to me Jack and I can think of many worse reasons for staying connected to the church.

Regards, JDK

David said...

Before you dismiss Christianity as completely dellusional check out this 1970's flick about Hell.