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Posts Tagged ‘caesar’

Each time I send in my quarterly taxes I can hear the Beatles singing in the background. “If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat, If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. Don’t ask me what I want it for, If you don’t want to pay some more. Cause I’m the taxman…” It makes me want to cast my line in the lake and hope to catch a fish with the coin I need in its mouth.

At the same time, I hear a question asked Jesus “Do we pay taxes or not?” This reminds us that politics were alive and well in first century Palestine. The fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this episode reminds us that the gospels have an interest in politics as well. And Jesus was right in on the political discussion. This is good for us to be reminded of. Especially those of us who want to believe religion is private and separate from politics and that Jesus only talks about spiritual things.

Considering the song his mother sings during her pregnancy, I suspect her lullabies may have been a little political as well. If that is the case then it is no surprise that when Jesus began ministry he began with a political announcement. A new kingdom is here!

The context we are given for Jesus birth is Caesar’s decree. At his death he is charged as a rival king. And then in between he is asked the question “Do we pay taxes or not?” There is simply no way to avoid the idea that to follow Jesus puts us in a political story.

Caesar has coins stamped in his image. Jesus asks for one of these and says something along the line of “Caesar can stamp his image on as many of these as he desires. But do not let Caesar stamp his image on you. You do not belong to Caesar.” Jesus wants to be sure we do not confuse God with Caesar. We are in a political story. And following Jesus complicates politics.

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There is a lot of energy spent trying to convince us that we are dependent on politicians. This is not a new phenomenon. Even Luke the historian from the first century knows this. I can’t help but notice how political Luke gets when writing his Gospel. Chapter three begins by making certain we know who the Caesar is (Tiberius), who the governor of Judea is (Pontius Pilate), who the tetrarch of Galilee is (Herod). We are also told that Philip is tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitus. That Lysanius is tetrarch of Abilene. That Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.

Yet, these are not the politics Luke is primarily interested in. What he really wants us to know is that during this time “The word of God came to John.” Luke is reminded of someone else who preached in politically charged times by the name of Isaiah. Isaiah preached to kings. Isaiah watched kings go to war. He watched kings rise and kings fall and new kings take their place. I think Luke is interested that in the day of Isaiah – God intervened.

This reminds us of another politically charged message, John’s. After he spoke the crowd asked “What are your politics John?” And John replied “share with one another. Be generous. Be aware of those in need.” The tax collectors asked “What are your politics?” And John replied “do not steal from others. Stop taking what does not belong to you.” The soldiers asked “John what are your politics?” And John replied “do not coerce others or use force to get them to do what you want. Do not accuse others falsely. Be content with your wages.” Some wanted him to run for office. He declined but did confront the tetrarch about his politics.

This is the way history goes according to the bible. Politicians appear to rule. They look so in charge. But repeatedly, God intervenes. It is of interest to us that in the days of politicians, God intervenes. In the seasons where kings and Caesar’s rule and governors govern, and tetrarchs do whatever tetrarchs do – God intervenes. Every time, anytime we look at history, politicians will seem to be in charge. Hopefully we will be reminded of John the Baptist and be reminded that our politics are different.

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