AND we’re still in the questioning period – it’s been a few days since our last Gospel, but this is still the Pharisees and other religious officials trying to get Jesus to make a mis-step. They either want him to lose the people’s respect or to get into trouble with Rome. In the few days since last week’s gospel, they have gone away and tried to devise the VERY BEST question, the one that will discredit Jesus one way or another so that they can be rid of him once and for all.
They start with flattery – which is all true of course – and then they ask a yes or no question. If Jesus answers Yes, the people will not like him much because they hated the tax of the Emperor. In fact, in 70 AD the people would refuse to pay that tax and then their rebellion would be squashed by the Romans who would also destroy the very Temple Jesus is teaching in. If Jesus answers No, he’s in big trouble with the Roman government and those same religious officials would be quick to rat him out.
SO that was then, and this is now. We may grump a bit about having to pay our taxes, but not many of us believe it is unchristian to pay them. We understand that in order to live in a civil society with all the protections and advantages we enjoy, we have to obey the laws of the land and pay our share of the taxes that maintain roads, provide clean water, and all the other stuff we take for granted on a day-to-day basis. So this might seem to be a blow-off sort of a week – what Jesus is saying is not really applicable to us today.
But not so fast – some people would use this Gospel to emphasize the separation of church and state. I have heard this preached this way, but I tend to push back against that idea. I usually always prefer a both…and approach instead of an either…or. So here’s my take: I believe the Emperor’s realm is only a very small part of God’s realm. In fact, there are many Emperor’s realms that you move through every day right? You have the rules of the federal govt, the state govt, the city govt, your homeowner’s assn, your workplace, etc, etc, etc. All of these usually work together, sometimes they don’t, but you are a rational adult who can navigate that.
All of those things are of the Emperor – they bear that image. YOU however, are the image-bearer of God – you are the eikon of God. Let that sink in for just a minute. You are stamped and imprinted with God’s image. HOW you move and live within these realms has everything to do with remembering that you are God’s image-bearer. It matters.
Now imagine every person on this planet – all of those Imperial realms out there – every different government and society. Then think of all of God’s image-bearers living within those systems. It excites me to think about what could be possible if we all remembered this all the time.
We have an obligation to the State, but we have a larger obligation to God. We must allow all the choices we make within the system to be driven by our belief, by what we believe God holds dear. We try to protect the least, the lost and the last because Jesus said. We love our neighbors as ourselves – the greatest commandment. Speaking of neighbors – look around. Look at someone around you – they are also the image of God. When you go out from here today, go out and act as though you are God’s image-bearer and treat others as though they are too. Then you will be giving to God what belongs to God. Amen.
There is audio that will go up over next weekend. It will be on the PodBean Player.