Brian’s Reflection: Sat/Sun, Oct 18/19, 2008
Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?"
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you
hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius.
Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The
emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are
the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."
- from the Gospel called Matthew ( 22: 17-21)_Gospel for October 19, 2008
Jesus was not making any comment on whether taxes were appropriate or not. Don’t get distracted here from the point of Jesus’ words. He wasn’t setting up a guideline for civil disobedience, and he wasn’t even really commenting on what taxes were fair or unfair, or on what one’s relationship with oppressors should be.
He was simply outmaneuvering those “enemies” of His who disagreed with His theology, morals, and ethics, and who feared losing their power. They were trying to avoid Jesus’ prophetic condemnation of their unholy ways by trapping him into making a politically dangerous statement, hence using the political system to do their dirty work. (Eventually, they succeeded, because Jesus refused to play the game.) But Jesus here beat them at their own game. He didn’t fall into the trap ….. and the Pharisees were left standing there with the bright yolk of hypocrisy on their faces.
What the Gospel does, if you honour It’s holiness, is organize your priorities. I have said for several decades that I am first a citizen of The Kingdom of God, and secondarily of earthly “kingdoms”. I believe that it is constitutionally my duty, as a last resort, to “burn the flag” if the government refuses to permit me to honour the ways of God before the ways of Wo(men), or fails to do so itself. Silently accepting the cross was Jesus’ way of “burning the flag” as a last protest against society’s rejection of God’s Love, Compassion, and Justice.
In side-stepping the trap by refusing to give the Pharisees a political weapon against Him, He attempted to get them to see that in not listening to His just, compassionate, and loving words they were betraying their God. Alas, this usually only stokes anger in the hypocritical, not repentance. I see this in America today: those who have oppressed and deprived the poor, increased their wealth and power by raw chicanery, and even been caught at it, are stoking the same fury that got Jesus crucified.
Love, justice, compassion, humility, peace, respecting “the dignity of every human being” (Baptismal Rite of the Book of Common Prayer), “Whatsoever is good” ….. these come first. Not “Caesar”.