Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Recently I heard a recording of a sermon Tim Keller delivered entitled Arguing About Politics. Even if I may not track fully with him, I think it was insightful and thought provoking. Worth a listen. The elephant in the room nowadays is politics, and especially Christian involvement in it. And the inherent divisiveness which ever has been a part of the political process seems to have reached a point in which the United States itself is in danger of being torn apart. Hopefully it’s not that bad, but the talk on the ground, influenced by some outlets of the media is often caustic.
Jesus was up against it because he was indeed the Messiah, but not in the way most every Jew anticipated. In some way he was to rule politically no less, and ultimately over the whole world. Rome would certainly be taken care of. His answer to the question put to him by the Jewish leaders who were trying to trap in him in what he said, was mind boggling to them. It sidestepped the trap they had set for him, because he didn’t answer it in their book, yet he really did answer it.
Jesus’s kingdom, as he told Pilate is not from this world, we can say not of this world, but definitely for this world. It is obviously never in the terms of this world; it is gospel derived and ends up rooted in the church because the church is rooted in Christ who is both its foundation and cornerstone. In a sense the church is Christ, being Christ’s body. And where Christ is, the kingdom of God is present. And that kingdom is not only internal, though certainly it is, and Jesus did make a big deal out of that. But it is about and for all of life. But it can’t be tied to a political party, since it can never be allied to such, nor could it become a political party and player in this world. It is rather a world itself, yet present for this world. And hopefully can impact even the political parties of this world.
This is all certainly a controversial theological matter: there is the Augustinian and Lutheran two kingdom approach, the Anabaptist approach which sees a stark often antagonistic contrast between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of the world, etc. I don’t mean to get into any of that, even if it’s probably not altogether possible to avoid it. But the point of this post is simply that we need to be sensitive to obligations ultimately given to us by God. The tax was not much really, but it was symbolic. As a captive people, you owe this to your captors. Jesus said, “Pay it.” But he also said that they’re to give to God what is God’s. Which really means heart and soul and life: everything. And in the way God prescribes: for the poor, etc.
In the United States’s democratic republic, Christians will disagree over how much they should get involved in politics, and even over who to vote for, or how to look at various issues. It’s not like Rome’s iron clad rule where Christians had no choice but to comply. But how we do this, how we treat each other and others, regardless of what politician we support, how we do that should be different than the world in that it’s clear that the one we follow above all else is Christ. That we are never beholden to any other person or party except Christ and God’s kingdom come in him. That doesn’t mean that we won’t hold American political views, because we obviously will. But it’s how we do so that’s vitally important. At the end of the day our witness should point others to Christ, and never to any mere human, regardless of how well we might think of them ourselves.
Jesus was faithful to who he was, his calling, God’s kingdom present in him: the king. And he calls us to no less than the same in our faith and practice. In and through Jesus.