my miscellany

Pentecost 20, 2017 — 22 Oct 17

Pentecost 20, 2017

RCL Year A Proper 24
Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-9, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Saint Matthew 22:15-22

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap [Jesus] in what he said.”[1] If Jesus says it is lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, he loses support from ardent nationalists who resented the presence of the Romans. If Jesus says it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, he loses support from the Herodians, whose power depended on the stability the Romans provided, the Pharisees, whose religion the Romans left alone, and the Romans themselves.

The question may be likened to a question from a reporter today—it is divisive and drives the ideas involved to the opposites and to polarization.

Jesus ducks the question by refusing to take sides. And I believe his answer suggests a lot about our life and how we live it today in the United States. It is perfectly possible to render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s while rendering unto God the things that are God’s. Most all of us do it already. We pay our taxes, and we worship and believe in God.

So, what is there in this attempted entrapment for us? The characteristic of the Pharisees’ question, the pushing toward division and polarization, characterizes most conversations today about elections, financial markets, current events, and sports. The conversations ask for a declaration of one allegiance or an opposite allegiance, and the example of Jesus is to keep both options on the table, to refuse to be pushed into one polarized position or another.

I am not talking about waffling or changing positions in accord with the prevailing winds or latest polls. I am talking about being what Jesus was in part, a full self who thoughtfully knows that both sides have their pros and their cons. Both sides have strengths and weaknesses. Choosing one over the other without reservation is just foolish, just as foolish as it was for Jesus to have declared that paying Cæsar’s tax was lawful or unlawful.

For life is not a coin flip. Heads or tails cannot fully describe us or what it means to be made in the image of God. For we are believers and sinners at the same time. We have good days and bad days. We have our strong points and our weaknesses, but every part of each of us has been redeemed in Jesus Christ. In Christ and in Christ’s body, with our weal and our woe, as Isaiah prophesies,[2] we are “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” as we sing in the great hymn.[3] And, as another hymn puts it, “In Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”[4]

[1] Saint Matthew 22:15.

[2] Isaiah 45:7.

[3] The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 410, Stanza 1.

[4] Hymn 529, Stanza 1.

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