Render to Caesar

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21).

A nice neat verse to keep my spiritual life and my relationship to the powers separate. Be a good boy and just do whatever the powers ask because the two are ever so separate.

Really?

The context for the ‘render to Caesar / God’ reply is toward the climax of the ministry of Jesus. It is centred in occupied Jerusalem and the compromised Temple. The revolutionary has come to town. He has made his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey coinciding and contrasting with the military parade coming in from the west (see: https://3generations.eu/posts/2017/03/provocative-or-what/). The whole city was in turmoil as ‘the prophet from Galilee’ had arrived (Matt. 21:10, 11). Soon after this he makes the very dramatic (and deeply prophetic) act of turning over tables in the Temple, calling for it to be a house of prayer for the nations.

So the scene is set. Tension is high. How dangerous is he? What kind of revolution is he likely to spark? What will be the event that provokes the start of something that will be hard to stop?

The Pharisees with Herodians look to trap him. He is being set up to lose. They pose the question about the legality (from the Torah point of view) of paying taxes to Rome. Pay taxes (the Herodian view) and how ineffective Jesus will appear. He will be seen as lacking courage and selling out. However, refuse to pay taxes and he can be arrested on the grounds of sedition.

Jesus first asks for a coin. They produce the coin, and he deliberately asks them about the image and title on the coin. These ‘holy’ questioners are able to produce a coin with an image on it that is an affront to their own religion, even blasphemous. The image is of Tiberius and the wording is ‘high priest’, ‘son of the divine Augustus’.

In that world the coin (or any such article) belonged to the person whose image appeared on it. The coin therefore was Caesar’s – or so he claimed. Here they (religious Jews) are with pagan coinage, image and titles proclaiming the Imperial myth. ‘Give it back, have nothing to do with that system’ is certainly how Jesus’ response can be understood. (We might well argue though without money we cannot buy and sell… and we might wish to object in one less that 667 ways!). Further you (Jews), as a sign to the world, are image bearers, you bear the image of God (as do all humans). Indeed the whole world belongs to God. The coin belongs to Caesar – that is his claim – but you belong to God. So there is a simple transaction that is to take place. (Caesar’s claim was also false – thus complicating the response required.)

The question started at the wrong end. If the second part is not worked out in totality how can the first part ever be answered? In the light of 100% to God now what are you going to do with the first part, the demand for taxes by Caesar?

There is probably another aspect underneath the passage, a strong allusion to 1 Maccabees 2:29-41 where the dying Mattathias says to his sons:

Judas Maccabaeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.

The result of ‘paying back the Gentile in full’ was the armed revolt, the Greeks were defeated, the Temple cleansed and a royal dynasty that lasted 100 years was established.

The instruction was to ‘give back to the Gentiles what they deserve’, and do it within the boundaries of zealous observation of the law.

The texts and the events of the Maccabean period were well known as part of the context in which the people understood the Roman occupation. In the light of that Jesus response is not a clever division of state over here and faith over there – one public and one private. His answer is revolutionary. Give back to Caesar what he deserves. Pick up arms as per the former rebellion against the powers? Maybe some understood it as that.

In the context of being an image bearer how do we respond to the state? The state is not ordained from above. All powers are relative, none can command absolute obedience.

Allegiance to Jesus? Revolution with Jesus.

Self-publicity?

‘Never believe your own publicity’. Wise advice, and imagine a world where someone with limited vocabulary did not have to claim via Twitter and all forms of social media that no-one knows more than them? Thanks then to Leif Garrett who is credited with the phrase… but it raises a question. One’s own publicity?

From time to time I get a request, send a photo and a blurb about yourself. The photo part is not so difficult but the blurb? What to write…

I normally send two blurbs, one that ‘works’ (or is a piece of self-publicity) and one that is honest. I appreciate the need to publicise so as people know what they (think they) are coming to. I was once advertised in a certain country as being the ‘President of Sowing seeds for revival and of Company of Prophetic People’. President? Presiding over what? Of course one can spin almost anything, but when Scripture does not simply tell us not to lie but to ‘not speak a falsehood’ the spin becomes very dangerous indeed. I can spin something and not lie. But not leaving a wrong impression (a falsehood)? Very hard to do that and hype things up.

Just thinking about the quote, maybe the time is now to stop all self-publicity. So here is an attempt when I am next asked to present at the ‘heaven will DEFINITELY come down and all lives will be transformed within a two kilometer radius’ conference.

Martin Scott has had it pretty easy in life so has not learnt so much. He often thinks he knows better and so can be somewhat stubborn. Maybe it is reasonable attribute not to be overly-impressed by the opinions of others, maybe he is just a reticent learner. Many times quick to try and give an answer, can be guilty of pontificating beyond his understanding. (Photo can accompany the above publicity when the invite comes.)

Following Tim Suttle

I get a number of feeds each day of blogs that I follow, and have just begun to follow Tim Suttle at Paperback Theology: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/paperbacktheology/

Today he wrote, with reference to Stanley Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens under the title of Christianity Shouldn’t Be Infused With Politics—It Is a Politic. Ever since the late 90s when I was involved in prayer teams to cities I have been strongly convinced that the Gospel is political – the language of ‘church’, ‘repent’ and all other such language is deeply political, and the exposure of the spirit of empire that comes to a sharp focus in Revelation, so of course in reading the article I am already biased toward it. Here though are a few quotes:

Christianity is a whole new way to be human that requires a complete reordering of the way we organize our lives both personally and communally—or politically. Christianity is a politic.

That’s where we are. I mean, nobody who begins with “Greater love has no one than the one who lays down their life for a friend,” could ever end up with the American brand of radical individualism. Nobody who begins with “Consider the lilies…” could ever end up with present day consumer capitalism. Nobody who has taken seriously the story of the Good Samaritan could end up with nationalism.

He writes as an American so of course critiques Christianity in that context, but the application is certainly not limited to the USA. Here is the link:

PaperBack Theology

Goodbye, friend

I have just returned from a few days in the UK, travelling over for the funeral of one of my earliest and longest standing friends from my days in Cobham / Leatherhead (1977-2008). I worked for many years with Derek, learned so much from him at many levels. Strangely (?) we live just a few miles from where he found the Lord on the east coast of Spain many years ago. His impact on many lives was very marked and the days in the UK were very special. Too many to note all the aspects that made an impact.

I met people again who I was with some 10, 20, 30 and even 35 years ago. I am sure on many aspects we might be on different pages (maybe in different books?), but the connections were so deep. I am deeply thankful to Gerald and Anona Coates who in the late 60s began the unmapped journey that eventually contributed to the new church movement, a movement that shaped many values that I still hold dear today. Here at the funeral were people, whose contexts and expression of the Gospel varied enormously, some 30+ years later, but the passion for Jesus, the appreciation that non-religious relational Christianity is at the centre was so evident. Remove church politics and WOW!! Thank God that in his house are many mansions – some of them way to structured for me, some way to loose! I left Jude (daughter) and Joe’s house at 12noon and returned at 10.15pm. Just meeting people from forever ago.

In the funeral a number of people referred to Derek as their best friend. He was friends to so many. Of course at times in a funeral the person referred to never had any faults (!!), Derek like you and I of course had some… but for sure what I was left with was that what we say and what we do is very important, but ultimately those that spoke of the impact he made on their lives it was not in the final analysis what he said, nor what he did but how they felt when with him that stayed with them. That is a lesson to me – that people might feel accepted, believed in and strengthened when with me. I have a long way to travel on that road.

I, and sure that many other would echo this, thank Sandra, Anna, Lisa and Cara for allowing us also to benefit from his life. After he passed away his family found this on his computer, written a few days before he died. I leave that here:

Humour, and mostly inappropriate humour, has gotten me over most obstacles in life, but for each of us there will be at least one insurmountable step, so high that it can never be scaled. Some of us never get over it – whether it was the loss of someone who was our very life, or a betrayal, an addiction, or the darkest depression. Sometimes, when it is the loss of someone dear to us, we never want to get over it. It has to become part of us. Maya Angelou, if she were here, would say that the insurmountable step defines us. Wounds, damage, heartbreak, failings or addictions, it is how we cope with that step and the choices that we make which make us a bigger or smaller person. Whoever you are, and whatever circumstances you face, don’t let your insurmountable step destroy you. Embrace it and let it define you.

Derek Thomas Williams, 2019
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