Contemplating Jesus

GOD AND CAESAR

Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

Jesus had much to say about wealth and material possessions.  The main thrust of his message was that the allurement of money should never take precedence over God.   Addressing the Pharisees, who in Luke’s gospel were described as “lovers of money” Jesus said, ”for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”  (Luke l6:15) He embellished this message in a number of ways throughout his life with stories and examples of what God’s economy looked like versus the familiar modus operandi of the financial and transactional. God’s economy had nothing about money in it: it was based on faith, providence, grace and love.

Even though Jesus lived by God’s economy, he was very aware that the taxes levied by Rome were heavy burdens for every citizen of Judaea. These taxes included much of what we have today – income tax, import/export duties, sales tax, property taxes etc.  What was particularly distasteful was that Jews (referred to as Publicans) were the ones to collect these taxes from their fellow Jews.  Many of these tax-collectors were known to extort more for themselves through over-charging and therefore were viewed as in the same sinful class as thieves, swindlers and prostitutes.  The fact that Jesus dined with such people (Levi himself later became the apostle Matthew) caused much consternation.  How could Jesus favour those who chose allegiance to the emperor and Rome and betrayed their own people?  Jesus’ response was that those who are well  “have no need of a physician but those who are sick do.”  (Matthew 9:12)

But when Jesus was quizzed by some Pharisees about the lawfulness of paying  taxes, he asked to be shown a denarius used for such purposes.  After they identified the head on the coin as Caesar’s Jesus said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s”  (Matthew 22:20-21).  In other words be responsible and cooperative towards what is required as a citizen of the world but don’t overlook the equal responsibility towards the spiritual and the holy.

Jesus acted with no exception to his own rule.  When Peter was asked in Capernaum whether his master paid the temple tax, he replied that he did.  Jesus took this incident to illustrate, once again, that God is in control. “What do you think Simon?” he said, “whom do kings of the earth take toll and tribute? From the children or from others?”  Peter answered “From others.”  Jesus claimed, “Then the children are free.”   Jesus immediately instructed Peter to go to the sea and hook the first fish that came, open its mouth and take the coin he’d find there and give it to the temple tax collectors “for you and me…. so that we do not give offence to them.” (ref. Matthew l7:25-28).

Freedom from the burdens of life are what Jesus promised.  Yet it is a freedom with a price –  “Sell what you own……. and follow me.” (Mark 10:21)  But Jesus knows that not everyone is ready or willing to live completely within God’s economy.  Hence the coin and the fish while you are pondering the better way.  As you still live in the world, you still need to pay your taxes.  With faith, however, and trust in the goodness of the Lord, the Lord continues to provide sometimes in the least likely of places and the most unconventional of ways.

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