"Making Your Vote Count!" Bible Study on Matthew 22:15-22
October 15, 2020, 1:06 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Matthew 22:15-22 (Common English Bible).

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

In this Sunday's Gospel, we are surprised to find Jesus pushed into a debate about Caesar while we in the United States are acouple weeks away from a presidential election.  We can't help but read this episode of Jesus and the question about Caesar's coin as potentially a spiritual statement about the way the followers of Jesus our to relate to the state.  Yet we do so with caution, for there may be difference between living in the economic and military empire of an unprecedented world-power during the brief period of relief from direct war with other major powers (under the supposed Pax Romana) which allows it to divert its attention to the twin projects of extracting wealth from its subjects and imposing its culture, gods, and language upon them and the Roman state in whose occupation Jesus lived.

Of course, Jesus' critics aren't really interested in having a debate with Jesus about tax payments.  Matthew states clearly that they are seeking to entrap Jesus.  Jesus' critics hope to  humiliate him, to draw Jesus into a dangerous discussion in front of God and everybody, to trick him into saying something that might move the governing authorities to move against him.

Eventually, the government did move against Jesus.  And those who would attempt to argue that Jesus was mostly concerned with spiritual, soul matters -- that he was nonpolitical must come to terms with his death: horrible, government-instituted death on a cross.  Something about the teaching and the actions of Jesus attracted the attention and then the murderous actions of the authorities.  The cross suggests that, at least in the view of the Department of Public Executions' Crucifixion Division, Jesus was a trouble maker and a threat to Law and Order as defined by the Romans and their puppet government in Jerusalem.

In encountering this Sunday's Gospel, I think it important to note that this question about Caesar and his taxes is raised by Jesus' critics not by Jesus.  Considering that Judea was under the iron fist of the Romans, it's curious that Jesus only rarely comments upon the Roman occupation forces in Judea.  Did Jesus consider the Roman occupation to be so dominant that neither he, nor his followers could do anthing about the injustice perpetrated by the Romans?  That's unlikely, seeing as Jesus, in the name of the Realm of God, routinely goes head-to-head with demons, religious authorities and others in power.  Or does Jesus say so little about Caesar because he considered the imperial government apparatus as of no particular consequence for his mission?  The government, whether it be Caesar or Caiaphas, was irrelevant.  Nothing could stop Jesus from obeying God's will as the events at the end of the gospels -- the cross and resurrection -- will show.

Don't you find it interesting that Jesus turns this question about taxes into a question of worship, a questoin of what honor and glory we give to Caesar (read the state, the governing authorities) and what we offer up to God?  Jesus makes no attempt carefully to distinguish what exactly belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.  Perhaps Jesus does so in order to leave each of his disciples to make up their own minds about Caesar and God, but that's unlikely.  Jesus never shows much faith in his disciples' ability to decide anything for themselves.

This Sunday's Gospel leads me to see some insights about faith and politics.  Because of Jesus Christ, followers of the Way of Jesus have some dinstinctive views about politics.  Jesus is no pet of the political right or left nor of any democracy or dictatorship.  Jesus keeps pointing us to the implications of the worship of the God of Israel and the Church.  Because Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not (no matter what guise he presents himself in), we ought to think about politics, about politicians and elections, in a peculiarly confounding way as followers of the Way of Jesus.

That's a lot to think about during such a polically chagred election season.  Here's a thought:  Caesars of the right or the left come and go.  Only God remains.

Make your vote count!

Blessings,

Pastor Greg Rupright



Comments

10-16-2020 at 8:55 PM
Pat May
Interesting analogy....
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