Friday, 14 March 2014

Lent day 9 - following Jesus is taxing

Luke's account of the parable of the vineyard (discussed for Mark in a previous post) in chapter 20 is followed by a passage that has attracted all sorts of readings: what does it mean to render to Caesar the things that are Caesars? For some, this passage is combined with Romans 13 (a particular reading at least) to make it look like Jesus was endorsing paying taxes to Rome and general obedience to the regime. Of course Jesus went to the cross and didn't resist, so naturally we are to see that violence against the machine is out. But it it capitulation? Do we render to God's what is spiritual and to Caesar and his ilk what is material?

I don't believe we can buy into such dualism, and many people recognise the significance of the question in verse 24 of likeness and inscription. The idea of likeness or image goes back to Genesis 1. We are God's image and likeness, and hence are his - but this is in the body, the flesh, as living beings. This should mean nothing is left out, as if the spiritual and the physical (and with it the political, social, economic and so on) could be split apart.

So the likeness of Caesar and the inscription that said he was Son of God is part of the whole picture of empire with its totalising narrative of Pax Romana (Roman Peace) bought by the sword, the cross and taxation. As a pagan symbol, what the heck did the scribes and the chief priests have these coins on them, when they'd struck a deal so that banners with the same sorts of inscriptions couldn't be carried within the city?

To give God what is his is to live for God, period. To give Caesar what is his is to divest ourselves from all pagan structures. We need to give up our idols, especially when empires of politics, economics, social groups and so on, tell us we need these idols to be a part of their game. There is always a price to pay.

Ultimately, Jesus was saying that paying taxes to a corrupt empire was buying into that corrupt empire, and all such empires will fall before the one who was coming to take charge of the vineyard. Untangling ourselves from 'the matrix' will be hard, and I don't think dropping out of society to join a monastery or joining a community like the Amish is the only way to do this, as understandable as either approach is. Perhaps as many are suggesting, a new form of monasticism is what is needed - and I don't pretend at this time to have my head around this idea.

But resisting upsizing (like that wonderful Jeep ad where the son suggests they need a new boat now they have a bigger car to tow it), resisting putting career over family or ministry, resisting the stories we are told and questioning the worldview they promote. And heck, all of this is hard; hard work, hard thinking. It will be taxing, but then with this way of living the returns on investment are good.

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