thinking theology

Caesar’s Face

With thanks to D. Mark Davis for his comments and translation.

In Matthew 22:15-22, we hear about the trap forming around Jesus. In this case, the temple and the Roman sympathizers form an unlikely and probably uncomfortable alliance. They ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. There is no safe answer to this question. The temple, of course, also collected funds. The coins in either case were different. Temple coin could not be engraved with a human face or God’s face. Roman coins were engraved with the face of the emperor.

If Jesus said the coin should go to the Temple, it would be blasphemy, and also treason, a double whammy as they say. He turns the question back to them. He says, “Whose face is engraved here?” Then, it is logical that the coin belongs to the state. But God has presence over all, so the power of this coin is minimized by being part of a greater reality. It is a clever response, but also one to cause the listener to think. To whom do I owe my life? To whom do I owe my loyalty? To whom do I offer my service? Whose gifts do I appreciate and why?

Suddenly, we are confronted with some troubling thoughts. We in Canada, may not be living in occupied territory politically, but we might ask ourselves who owns our water? our natural resources? our fields and farms? our dairy and forests? How much control do we have over our daily lives?

Jesus was very political in his time and we must be too. It is not enough to hand over our coin to the state and then turn a blind eye to how it used, for good or ill. Politicians receive hate mail all the time. I wonder if they receive equal amounts of encouragement for their service in ecology, in justice, in compassionate legislation. We live in fractious times, but it is not all bad. I am proud of Quebecois who are wearing face coverings to protest the new law prohibiting such dress. Apparently even some bus drivers are protesting. This is an example of peaceful, but strong resistance to racism and martial law. I am happy to see Lloyd Longfield (MP) writing in social media about what he is thinking. Agree or not, it is an effort at transparency.

The best society is the one which understands sharing of resources , sharing personal as well as corporate responsibility. Jesus addresses not only social victims but also power brokers, demanding justice and consideration for all. The coin may belong to Caesar, but Caesar is accountable to God. In Hebrew scripture, in many passages, we hear the prophets warning rulers that security in leadership requires integrity. When integrity fails, so will the state ultimately. The lesson is that natural law will prevail because God shelters all.

The question for us in the passage is how do we use the coin that is stamped with our Caesar’s names? How do we decide whose agenda dominated our decisions? How do we weigh the easy prize against the long term care for the earth, and its people? Sheri Tepper, the novelist, commented that justice must be weighted on a case by case basis. God sees the sparrow, sees the tree, sees the whale, sees us. God sees the particular as well as the whole. Where do we place ourselves as church, as city, as family in that mirror; what do we see?

If asked the same question as Jesus was, how do we say with integrity how we support our society, our church, our family? Is it even a question we ask ourselves or have we forgotten to whom we belong, whose service liberates us?

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