God or Caesar?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Numbers 24:1-13, Romans 8:12-17, Matthew 22:15-22

Political parties thrive on an “Us vs. Them” mentality, so beware equating faith with politics. It’s difficult enough to find a congregation aligning with all our religious values, so how could any secular organization hope to do so? While we should stand on our principles, political affiliation – whether Left, Right, or Center – is not a litmus test for determining who is a “real” Christian.  When politics and faith become so entangled that the issues of a party – regardless of whether they have anything to do with the Gospel – acquire religious status and devotion, political affiliation becomes an idol.

The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking whether Jews should pay Roman taxes. He answered: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” His answer stymied them, in no small part because he didn’t actually answer the question! Some interpret this passage as implying we should honor state obligations as long as they don’t interfere with religious ones; if the emperor’s face is stamped on the coin of the realm, we can return it to him as required. Does this seem a little out of character for the Jesus who would flip the entire social order so the last will be first? Let’s not confuse a reconciling faith with one that merely appeases. Might this interpretation have Jesus giving too much regard to the state? Could we instead say Jesus teaches us the state is a reality we live with, but it does not impact our faith? Christians in capitalist democracies aren’t more or less Christian than those living happily under monarchies or socialism.

Since in truth everything belongs to God, nothing really belongs to the emperor (or any government). We live our faith regardless of the emperor or president. We can have an opinion on taxes – or any number of secular issues – but if we elevate them to religious status we fall into the Pharisees’ trap. Friends, family and associates may push us, even unwittingly, toward such traps. Instead let’s follow Jesus’ example, and not flip the coin of false choices.

Comfort: God’s nature is the same regardless of circumstance.

Challenge: Do some study of Christians in other countries.

Prayer: God of Hope, teach me to recognize what is important to you. Amen.

Discussion: if you have a political affiliation, has it ever come into conflict with your faith?

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