This Sunday’s Gospel has Jesus’ local opponents, Pharisees, colluding with Roman sympathizers, Herodians, to trap him, using a tax question to do so (Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar?). Jesus’ response is commonly misinterpreted by Christians; Martin Luther famously so to the detriment of Germany’s Nazi era Christians. Luther, and others, have claimed Jesus was conceding that earthly rulers have God given authority over disciples and disciples must submit to them. The exact opposite is true.
Romans asserted their rule in the name of Caesar, who was, for them, a god. When Jesus responded to the tax question by distinguishing between Caesar and God (Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s) Jesus was demoting Caesar from divine status. He was introducing an entirely radical idea into human history. Earthly rulers do not reign in the place of or in the name of God. 2,000 years ago Jesus was letting people know they needn’t submit to princes, presidents, prime ministers, or popes as if God ordained their rule. The authority of Jesus marveled those intent upon killing him (When they heard this they were amazed. So they left him and went away.). Jesus’ hunters left the exchange understanding a truth present day conformists don’t - Jesus didn’t affirm the authority of Caesar in the encounter; he gave witness to his own and thus encouraged such conscientious authority from disciples.
The conscientious authority of disciples requires not submission to earthly rulers but courage in standing up to them. Such authority includes peacemaking in a time of chosen wars, sharing in a time of feigned scarcity, and care for creation in a time of planned ecocide.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, guide us in sharing wisdom and courage during the contentions of our era.
Question: What are the false gods that need to be dethroned in my life?
October 19, 2014 Gospel Matthew 22:15-21 Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time