This is one of the most famous stories about Jesus and, probably, the most misunderstood or misapplied. It has been used as a bludgeon for centuries to justify the separation of things of the Church from the affairs of government.
The Romans now controlled the land God had promised the Israelites and brought with them their pagan ways. Most Israelites saw this as a contamination of the Creation that God had given them. So why would one willingly give taxes to the Roman Empire? After all, withholding taxes was just about the only thing that the Jews could do to express their displeasure with the occupation.
We all know that the Pharisees asked Jesus that question, trying to trap him into either being counter to Jewish law, or a seditionist against the Roman occupation. They felt that no matter how he answered the question, they could ‘get’ him. Either he disobeyed the Jewish Law and said pay the taxes (which would be an affront the YHWH), or said withhold taxes which would be treason to Rome.
But Jesus was too smart for them – he was not the uneducated preacher they thought he was. When he pointed out that the name and likeness of Caesar, not YHWH, were on the coin, there was no way they could trap him. In fact, they had just trapped themselves. Tribute should be paid to Caesar, using Caesar’s money.
But I think this set of scripture has a much deeper meaning for Christians. I think it admonishes us to be good citizens of the world we live in. As Paul often told people in his letters,
- “God ordains the higher powers”
and Christians are subject to its authority. Peter and Paul both stressed that Christians should be law-abiding citizens.
As Deacons, we need to be good citizens. . . and we need to set an example for others.
But how do we do that??
First of all, we must respect the institutions of our communities and country. But that DOES not mean we can’t disagree with what the government/institution is doing, but that we be law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing citizens. If you remember,
· Daniel spent some time with a lot of lions because he disagreed with King Darius’ notion that everyone should pray to him. .
· Shadrack, Meshak and Abadnego ending up in a furnace for protesting against King Nebuchadnezzar.
· All of the apostles spent time in prison because they proclaimed their faith contrary to the policies and wishes of the local government.
Even I, in several non-violent actions, have protested the manner in which churches abuse their LGBT children and can proudly say that I have been arrested and jailed with some of the finest people in the religious community. Civil protest and civil disobedience is a biblical tradition, based on answering a HIGHER calling from God.
The Bible says that we are stewards of the world God created. For us to be good stewards, we need to know what is going on in the community and government and who is doing it. Deacons provide a valuable service, connected those within the church walls with what is going on in the secular world of politics.
How many of you know who your senators and representatives are?
Don’t you think you should know?
And don’t you think you should know what is going on in the legislative sessions?
What bills are in process?
What impact they will have?
Don’t be an ignorant voter, casting your precious vote based on sound bites provided by a less than neutral new source.
Read the Bible and books that will help you solidify your faith and beliefs. Know what you believe and why. Be able to defend your position using principles of God.
And most of all, honor that which should be honored.
The next time you take out a dollar bill or a coin, notice what inscription is on it.
IN GOD WE TRUST
Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s
Unto God what is God’s!
Delivered at Procter Center, Anglican Academy for Morning Prayer, 8 December 2007