If you are one who would like to think that the Bible isn’t political, you are going to have a rude awakening this morning when you read Mark 12.
Two questions come to Jesus, in order to trap him: the question about paying taxes to Caesar, and the question about the resurrection from the Sadducees.
These two questions, which fan the flames of those in power: 1) Rome who has the political power, and 2) the Sadducees, the religious and temple authority. Jesus is rubbing salt in the wound he inflicted with his parable (in the previous passage about the wicked tenants), casting dispersions about those who are the tenants of the vineyard, and throwing them out for new tenants.
These groups mean to trap him and he sees through their hypocrisy and twists his answer so craftily that it continues to confound and exacerbate. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
On the surface it is somewhat playful. It has Caesar’s image on it. Of course it is his. Give it all away!
Now before you think I am advocating a 100% tax, giving all our money away to the government, let me say some more! If Jesus had said, “Give it to God,” there would have been trouble, for Jesus would be breaking Roman law. He would have been thrown in prison. Instead, by saying, “Give to God the things that are God’s” any good Jew listening would think, “Well, that is everything! Everything is God’s!” Roman officials would have heard him being in compliance with the law.
At the end of the day, Jesus is not talking about money or the resurrection really, he is talking about “where your heart lies.” And this, my friends, becomes very political for Jesus. He doesn’t want you to follow the politician of the day. He wants you to follow him. Fully. Maybe that does mean 100%, come to think of it.
Jesus does get political. And it is not the debate with other rabbis that is important here, or even Jesus’ answer, but the trajectory of this gospel, a trajectory that is witnessing the rejection, betrayal, and crucifixion of God’s own.
The tables are turning, but ironically, it is the crucified and rejected one who ends up turning the tables and coming out on top.
And so it is in our churches today. Sometimes we get so focused on the Fight du Jour, and we miss the fact that the only important fight was one that Jesus already won. Despite his own people rejecting him, he has a grand “YES” for this world, and an invitation to having our slates wiped clean.