Matthew 22:17-22 Obey God, but Give Caesar His Due

15 04 2013

Withered-Hand-man

(DISCLAIMER: Contains some political/social perspective that may be controversial to some)

“(The Pharisees asked:) Tell us then what You think about this: Is it lawful to pay tribute [levied on individuals and to be paid yearly] to Caesar or not? But Jesus, aware of their malicious plot, asked, Why do you put Me to the test and try to entrap Me, you pretenders (hypocrites)?  Show me the money used for the tribute.  And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and title are these?  They said, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Pay therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar, and pay to God the things that are due to God.  When they heard it they were amazed and marveled; and they left Him and departed.”- Matthew 22:17-22 (AMP)

I sort of wish Jesus would have told the Pharisees that it was perfectly OK not to bother with taxes, and while they were at it, that it was also perfectly OK to “go off the grid” and have nothing to do with the rest of society either.  That’s not what Jesus said, though.

Jesus didn’t tell us to agree with the government (important point) but He did teach that we should obey the government, even when the government is illegitimate and corrupt.

“Then Jesus said to the multitudes and to His disciples, ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority]. So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice’.” Matthew 23:1-3 (AMP)

Most people of Jesus’ time were expecting to see the Messiah as someone to set them free from the Roman oppressors, not as someone who would suggest that it’s a good idea to keep on sending money to Caesar.  It seems almost contradictory that Jesus would talk about abundant life in Him, but then recommend the people to keep right on sending tribute to Rome.

The issue Jesus has is that His Kingdom isn’t about money or material things.  Let Caesar have it, because his picture’s on it anyway.

lady justice

Civil government is also put in place by God to do God’s will here on earth- to do justice and keep order.  The function of doing justice and keeping order in society includes imposing punishments (up to and including the death penalty) for crimes when offenders break the law.  When government does not faithfully serve the functions of doing justice and keeping order, society falls apart, and anarchy prevails.

The dilemma that Christians have- and that the Jews of Jesus’ day faced as well- is what should believers do when government is thoroughly corrupt and unjust?  Obviously Jesus told His contemporaries to pay tax and to obey the law.  He did not advocate anarchy or civil war.

But what is a Christian’s response when:

Government places undue tax burdens upon those least able to bear them, but rewards those who refuse to work?

Government spends tax money irresponsibly and to the detriment of its citizens?- i.e. money spent in “foreign aid” that is being used to build up countries hostile to our own, and money squandered on trivial and unnecessary things.

Government overlooks and denies its citizens’ God-given natural rights?

Government makes and upholds appalling and unjust decisions (i.e Roe v. Wade)?

I don’t have solid answers for these questions.  Some believers would disagree with me on what would constitute frivolous government spending, or on what is the definition of a natural right.  Christians are called to live peaceably. Even so there are times when circumstances call for those who believe to take action.  It was right when people opposed the Nazi regime.  It was right for people to fight communism.  But what are we supposed to do when our government turns on us?  Does our silence toward injustice and corruption imply consent?  Are we just supposed to pay Caesar and shut up?

too_much_to_think

We are NOT called to check our brains at the door.

The argument that some would give is that since God works in and through even the most corrupt and vile leaders, that even these consequences of bad leadership are God’s will.  I have serious objections to this argument, because it would imply that it would have been wrong to fight Hitler or Stalin, because “God put them in charge.”  I find that line of thought hard to just comply with.  Even though God must have had a purpose for even these most evil of leaders, I don’t think that He expected or planned for His people to simply let these despots go unchecked.

boot-of-government-copblock

If anything, could it be that evil leaders and corrupt governments are put in place precisely to put believers to the test and put us in a position where we have to (whether we like it or not) make a stand and choose to live as people of God?

Could it be that we get the government we deserve based upon how attentive we are to it?  I can say much about the current government (and not much of it good) but here in the US (at least in theory) we have the mechanics available to fix the system when it breaks.  It is a believer’s obligation to be involved in government, and it is a believer’s obligation to shout it out from the rooftops when government is broken and officials are corrupt.

My answer must agree with Jesus- pay Caesar, because his picture is on the money.  But I will not be silent about the erosion of our civil (natural) rights, the egregious overtaxation and exploitation of the low-to-middle working class, and the behavior of dishonest scoundrels who have usurped their ways into the very highest offices in this country.

Obama's Work

I am not going to accept that despotic and corrupt leaders have the last say.  Christian people are called to hope for and to envision a renewed world and a healthy society, not to blindly accept the efforts of those who strive to tear down society and destroy our world.   We know how the story ends- Jesus wins!

Yes, I gave Caesar some of his portraits back, so to speak, not necessarily because I wanted to, but I continue to pray that the American people will wake up and see what we have done to ourselves- through our own greed, apathy, and abysmal choices in leadership on both sides of the fence.  I also continue to pray that God can work the impossible and turn the hearts of wicked people around (me included!!!) to seek Him and desire His way.

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (AMP)

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