Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 20:20-26; Hebrews 3:12-19; Proverbs 19:15-29; Isaiah 31-32
The antagonism between Jesus and the Jewish authorities was heightened by the previous parable. Some were now out to get him, one way or another. The spies thought they had Jesus trapped with a tricky question: Is it right for the Jewish people to pay taxes to the Romans? The Jews hated paying Roman taxes which were high and unjust. If Jesus answered that they should pay, he would likely lose much popular support. If he answered that they should not pay, he could be arrested for political subversion and possibly executed. The spies thought they had left him with no way out of this dilemma.
Jesus responded with wisdom and tact, providing his clearest statement on how his followers should engage with the political system they found themselves within. He makes it clear that he is not a political revolutionary with a goal of overthrowing even cruel and oppressive rulers like the Romans. In asking for a coin, he shows that they were already part of the Roman system. Using these coins brought some responsibility to play their part in that political system, whether they liked it or not. While there were bad parts, there were also benefits. They had a responsibility to engage with and contribute to that system. We too should consider our responsibilities to our systems. We have taxes to pay, jury duty to provide, votes to cast, political issues to engage with, etc. We are part of a political system that is not perfect. We should not shirk from our responsibilities towards that system. In today’s democracies and other political systems, there are many ways to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Some may be called to active involvement in politics to seek to influence the debate and policies at various levels.
But Jesus does not hand over all authority to the State. Political engagement is within the context of giving to God what is God’s. The parable immediately preceding this interaction makes it clear that God is the legitimate owner of everything. That is what incited the authorities to want to kill him. Those with political or religious authority ultimately have been granted this by God. He is the one true authority, and everyone will be held accountable for how we have exercised the authority we have been given.
As Christian members of the public, our primary allegiance is to God. The State places expectations on us, like contributing taxes. But God also calls on us to act in certain ways. We are to give him our whole heart and mind and strength. We are to live out our lives in ways that demonstrate our love for God, our neighbours and our enemies. We may feel oppressed by paying taxes and oppose some of our laws. We may work in settings where the policies and procedures frustrate and anger us. But we are a part of systems that have authority over us and we need to give to the boss what is the boss’s. But our primary allegiance is to God, and part of how we show this is by displaying his character traits as we carry out our work and seek to change what we can change.