(Original series written Easter of 2020 during the beginning months of COVID-19.)
The news is on a lot these days. From our current crisis with COVID-19 and before with the primaries. Our heads are full information and opinions that affect us more than many of us realize. The tension is real and the differing opinions are strong and numerous. It can be easy to get lost in the scuffle and forget that we belong to a different Kingdom entirely.
Read Matthew 22:15-22
This passage has a tendency of getting torn out of context and used as a political pawn. Yet Jesus is not addressing taxation literally, he’s shrewdly highlighting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and exposing their real agenda. The Pharisees had asked the questions in hopes of trapping him into saying something that would turn his followers away or give cause to have him arrested. Taxation was a hot topic in Jerusalem and there were many parties with differing opinions in the region. The Jewish people struggled to pay taxes at all, believing it was immoral to pay them to the corrupt society of Rome. In addition, they had to pay more taxes for Rome’s projection if they were not a Roman citizen. The Herodians were an Hellenistic group of Jews who were more willing to cooperate with Roman rule and willingly went along with the unfair tax structure. Then there were the Jewish zealots who didn’t pay Roman tax and were ready to overthrow Rome.
So you have a pretty messy picture: the Jew’s oppressed by a powerful government, the prideful Pharisees, the Herodians who go along with it, and the zealots ready to shed blood! And here’s where we find Jesus, in the midst of this political mess. Jesus stands in the midst of this political tension but doesn’t for a second move towards anyone’s direction. Instead, he uses a visual aid to make a point that leaves all parties speechless.
During the Roman empires, coins bore the image of the ruler, which conveyed ownership. Unlike our dollars and coins today which are more of a formality, Caesar’s image was about power and authority. He was the ruler of the land, therefore everything in his land belonged to him. So when Jesus says the famous words “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, this isn’t a metaphor, he’s being literal here! Caesar’s image was on that coin, so it belonged to him. Then Jesus moves quickly to his greater point, “and give to God what is God’s.”
What image is stamped on your heart?
This response begs the listener to ask the question: What is God’s? If we continue with the metaphor of Caesar’s image, we must consider who bears God’s image? We do!
Take a moment to put yourself inside the scene. Who would you be? The Jew’s desiring Jesus to free them from oppression? A zealot that desires the upper hand? Compliant and perhaps a bit complacent? Or perhaps a bit self-righteous about your position both in opinion and status? Whatever position you find yourself in this scene, or within our current political scene for that matter, one thing is to be held as truth above all else: You are made in the image of God. Therefore, you are God’s and you belong to a kingdom that is not of this world that is calling for your primary participation.
So when we find ourselves stuck in a political alliance that has us asking Jesus for his opinion, let us remember that he will give us the same answer:
“Whose image is stamped on your heart? Mine. Now go and bear my image to the world.”
- Put out a bowl of pennies as a reminder that we are to bear the image that is stamped on our hearts.
Edited by Jessica Wilson