The Gospel account of Jesus’ encounter with the religious leaders over tribute to Caesar has intrigued me. At first blush, Jesus seems to be saying that we are to give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. This does not square with the many instances when Jesus required undivided loyalty from his followers. Do not turn back to bury the dead. I came to bring the sword.
I went back to Ched Myer’s commentary on Mark. Ched has an uncanny ability to look at the context in which the Gospel was written and draw out deeper meaning that clarifies the text. In Say to this Mountain by Ched Myers and others, the authors say the Mark was written “in the late days of the Judean revolt.” The question posed to Jesus was a real question for both Judean loyalists and those who collaborated with Rome. The dividing issue was whether to pay taxes to Caesar.
Jesus turns the tables on the questioners. He and loyal Jews would not have Roman coins on them and certainly would not use them because they bore the facsimile of Caesar and were inscribed with “The August and Divine Son.” Judeans actually minted their own coinage. Myers says that the real focal point in the story is the coin. The real issue then became why the religious leaders had the coin and to whom were they loyal. The would-be trappers fell into a trap of their own making.
Loyal Judeans and the Christians in Mark’s community would have nothing to do with coinage which saw Caesar and not Jesus as Divine. Mark sets the stage for this in the very first sentence of his Gospel, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,the Son of God . . . .” This was a frontal assault on the “Divine” leader of the occupation forces, on the leader –Caesar—who represented values contrary to Kingdom values. Only the emperor could announce “Good News.” Yet, here mark is announcing the ultimate Good News—Jesus is Lord! His Kingdom, his new model for ordering the cosmos, is not the kingdom led by Caesar then or now.
The authors go on to discuss the fact that Jesus frequently challenged empire and religious leaders. He spoke truth to power in love. I was recently reminded that truth is not truth if not spoken in love. We too must ask challenging questions of government and institutions that affect the welfare of our brothers and sisters and indeed all of creation. We challenge war and nuclear weapons. We challenge the XL Pipeline and the devastation of our planet. We challenge the World Bank and International Monetary Fund because these organizations, designed to liberate people from poverty, actually do not. We challenge all that is of Caesar—greed, violence, war, domination, and oppression.
The list could go on and on; however, the authors posit some profound questions at the end of the chapter. The one that really jumped out at me was, “Why do so many of our churches [and Christians] simply mirror the dominant culture?” Today Jesus challenges us to show our coin of allegiance. Do our lives reflect allegiance to the system of greed and corruption and violence and militarism which bolsters our bloated comfortable life style? Or, is the sermon we preach by our actions and lives one about discipleship to the Christ who is making all things new? Are we proclaiming peace, nonviolence, justice, love, and compassion?
The Christ, incarnate love flowing forth into ever new life, is not up there and out there or back there. Christ is up ahead as Omega Point calling us to be all that we can be. In fact, I think the biblical metamyth is this, “God, who is self-effusing love, is always, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, calling us to become more than we are. God is calling us not from heaven above but from God’s presence deep within each one of us and within community to become all that we can be. We are challenged to become our true selves in God. We are empowered by Love incarnate to be co-creators. We cannot serve God and mammon.
[The photo with this is to remind us that we are part of the web of life. We are one with all creatures, great and small, and with the cosmos which is God-Love flowing forth.]