“Render Unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,
And to God that which is God’s.”
….which is easier to say than to understand.
After all….in spite of the Roman image on the coin which prompted this comment from Jesus….isn’t it true that even the coin itself was really God’s? Of course it was.
So does anything really belong to Caesar? I think yes…and no.
The question which precipitated the exchange about the image on the coin was about taxes….was it right to pay them or not. Whatever the ultimately “correct” exegesis of this text, it’s clear that very few commentators understand Jesus to be denying the obligation to pay taxes. I pay my taxes and I bet you do too.
Most of you know that I grew up in what we now call “evangelicalism.” But the evangelical church of the 1950’s and 1960’s was a whole lot different from evangelical churches of today. I grew up in a religious environment that was mostly agnostic about politics and current affairs – and no wonder, because in some (limited) measure we were politically and socially insignificant. What’s the point (so the reasoning went) of political engagement if you’ve no possibility of influence anyway?
(An aside: I’m reporting what we (most evangelicals) thought and felt at the time. If I knew and believed then what I know and believe now, I’d have taken issue with that conclusion – but I didn’t. And interestingly, most evangelicals today no longer ascribe to those quietist assumptions which led to political disinterest.)
Here’s the irony of recent ecclesiastical history: Those evangelicals who 60 years ago ignored political activity are today politically muscular….and mainliners (with the exception of our national agencies and a minority of our congregations) have eschewed the political activism of the 1960’s and today scold those pastors with the temerity to address social issues from the pulpit. It’s a stunning (and disheartening) role reversal.
I’m writing prior to the Iowa caucuses, but you will read this after they are done. This isn’t, therefore, a direct appeal for caucus participation. But it is a call for worldly engagement. I was taught as a young undergrad that “all truth is God’s truth.” And I believe it. Naturally, like all slogans it begs a bunch of questions….but to the extent this little aphorism disrupts foolish religious certainty about matters that can’t stand on their own in the open marketplace of thoughts and ideas….it’s valuable and important.
I reject the notion that God is disinterested in anything of interest and concern to human beings anywhere. God is the ultimate voyeur….God pries into every conceivable matter….not because God is prudishly keeping score of those who’ll pay someday, but because God loves God’s creation and if anything – addiction or climate change, poverty or depression, racism or materialism….the list could go on and on….if anything diminishes “life” (whether individual or societal) then God is concerned about that thing.
And so must we be concerned.
Where is God calling you to advocate for “life” in 2016?
Get in the fray. Make a difference. I’m rooting for you….and God is too!
With great hope!
UCC in Iowa