Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What belongs to God?

When Jesus said, give to God what's God's and to Caesar what's Caesar's he invited his friend to full lives in 2 worlds. The story behind this maxim reveals Jesus' ability as a teacher and gives us an invitation to imagine God's place in our lives as Christ's followers today. Matthew, Luke, and Mark (even the Gospel of Thomas) all tell this same maxim (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26, Thomas 100).

Matthew says the Pharisees, hoping to trap him, came forward with a simple sounding question ... about taxes. The pharisees buttered Jesus up and then posed this concrete sounding question. “Are we to pay imperial taxes or not?”(Matthew 22:17) On the outside this question looks boring and mundane. Nobody likes taxes. But Jesus' gives guidance in his answer that matters to somebody building a new and better life based on Jesus' life, death, and rising. What Jesus says about giving to God what belongs to God and giving Caesar what's Caesar's (Matthew 22:21) opens up a whole lot of space to imagine how we live, work, and serve today as permanent citizens of heaven and people living full lives on earth today.

The Pharisees were hoping for a yes or no response. If Jesus said yes pay the tax he'd find trouble with the crowd tired of paying Roman taxes. If he replied no he would face wrath from Herod and imperial authorities. But Jesus gave no simple yes or no reply. Instead he asked for a coin and then asked seemingly innocent questions. “Who's image is on it?” “Who's title is on it?” The pharisees gave an honest answer—Caesars. Now Jesus replied—give Caesar what belongs to him and God what belongs to God.

Christian imagination is given space here to run. What does it mean to give back to God what's God? What does it mean to give back to the world and it's powers? Jesus offers no pat answer. He didn't give out forms to file every April. Instead he invites us to live with the very same questions that he asked 2000 years ago.

  • What is God's?
  • What belongs to this world?

Jesus gives guidance—but there's no clear accounting system differentiating God's things from the things of this world. How we live that under his guidance isn't set in stone. And that's where faith and imagination, trusting in the guidance of the one who has given us everything, takes shape in our lives.
Peace and thanks for reading,