Worship with Us This Sunday - 10:15 a.m.
From Pastor Todd’s Weekly E-Mail
Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggemann wrote a little book on the subject of “discipleship” titled, The Word that Redecsribes the World. I could not help but think of that book when reading the Gospel passage from Matthew for this week. Jesus has stirred the way the people understand the way God works and what it might mean for the “kingdom of God’ to be at hand. Religious leaders feel threatened that Jesus undercuts their own understanding. You may imagine them sitting around thinking of questions that would stump Jesus and expose his flawed thinking, teaching, and preaching.
One of the last occasions for such a confrontation is found in Matthew 22. Jewish supporters of the current culture and government system (Herodians) are sent with followers of the Pharisees to “snare” Jesus. This story may be one of the most familiar when thinking of a proof-text for how Christians should view taxes. Certainly we do not like taxes – even if we enjoy the benefits of the infrastructure and services we enjoy. Our roads may need improvement, but travel outside of the United States and all our roads seem more than adequate by comparison. Thank you tax dollars.
To reduce this incident in the life of Jesus to a statement about civil responsibility and taxes is to read the story exclusively from our context – our particularity and contingency. That is, too often we limit the scope and effect of the Scriptures because we fail to connect the words of Jesus with their surrounding setting and situation. When we do, we overlay our setting and situation and move to make our interpretation “the” interpretation. Doing so, especially in this instance, misses the text in favor of our interpretation.
The question of paying taxes was a rouse. And Jesus, as some say, “flipped the script.”
For Jesus the issue is always understood in the context of the authority of God and its influence on the way people lived, especially those given to claim themselves “God’s people.” Don’t miss this. The same is true today. This is where understanding the setting and mission of Jesus opens up the text to render its verdict about us rather than we who too often render a verdict about the text.
Pharisees do not care for the Emperor. He stands in the way of their land, ideals of self-governance, and religious privilege. Oh the parallels. The one way to get Jesus in trouble with the Emperor would be to coax Jesus into an act of insurrection against the Emperor. Instead, Jesus walks right into a moment of insurrection against the faulty way the religious leaders have idolized their own vision of God. More concerned about “getting Jesus”, the religious leaders cannot see in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. When Jesus tells them to give to God what is God’s, he is exhorting them to give God his place not their idealized and idolized images of God fortified in their religious structures. The very same apparatus they use to ignore the value of people instead using it for their own privilege. You may want to re-read this paragraph. Read it again not for anything else than to see how Jesus’ mission and setting create an occasion for a rupture of our own visions of God we fortify with actions and statements that betray the very Way of Jesus.
I have written and spoken before, that if we pay attention, Jesus is not as nice as we make him. We want to hold onto our vision of God that makes what we already like to do work and support it with references to Jesus. This episode in the life of Jesus opens up a space, a fracture if you will, in the foundation we lay when continuing to live un-transformed lives. Jesus does not play nice because his life evidences a way of living that moves us toward others rather than isolates us from others. We who today claim to be the people of God must avoid creating structures and means to avoid others – even if we bristle at what they do. If you do not see Jesus doing this very thing in the Gospels, then we may be reading different Gospels. Or, we have already decided how to make what Jesus did fit what we prefer to do.