“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This hits a little close to home, doesn’t it? We live in the midst of a consumerist society obsessed with shopping and material things. The assault on Christmas began even before Halloween, and is now in fully throttle, with Christ completely ripped out of Christmas for so many.
Today the scribes and Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus. But like a brilliant lawyer, Jesus responds in a way not to trap himself. The question “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” has no good answer! If Jesus says, “No, don’t pay!” then he is guilty of sedition. If he says, “Yes, pay taxes!” then he is guilty of breaking God’s law, for it involves graven images and a sense of Rome being put above religion.
Instead, Jesus attacks their question with an assertion that the money is evil (Give to Caesar that which has his picture on it!) and also that God owns everything anyway (Give to God what is God’s).
Is not everything God’s? Of course! But the deeper question – is that how we live our lives? Do we go about our daily business understanding that everything is the Lord’s? Have we come to a settled place about how we spend our money?
My beef is not with us buying gifts. It is the underlying materialism. It is the hording. It is the obsession with money. We have actually bought into the lie that if we gather enough, we can somehow escape our dependence on one another and God. The Protestant Work Ethic has melded with our sin and greed, and we have fallen into truly believing that somehow we can escape dependence, or suffering, or however you want to view this. Well I have news for you: There is no escape from our mortality.
Here’s my other beef:
Here we are in the midst of America’s celebration of Christmas, which by all accounts has become Consumerism Christmas. Jesus has been traded in for Santa. Somehow our Christmas spirit is often judged on how many presents we buy, how many parties we have, how many cards we mail out, and how many decorations we put up. The problem with those standards is that they all center around consumerism.
It would probably be better if our churches moved the celebration of Christmas to July to avoid the vicious assault on our faith.
We are called to a renewal of Christ’s incarnation. That means a renewal of understanding that God is close to us, and that all we do and say is wrapped up in the marvelous gift of God With Us. To have God in our midst means to put all our energy in that which was important to him. As someone who came and reached out to the poor and afflicted, it would seem that if Christmas is going to be about gifts, it will center around alms to the poor, not gifts to other family members.
Ironically it is in giving all back to God, we finally claim something of true value.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This is our call – to turn from the bizarre incongruencies of our lives, and turn to the truth of God’s radical gospel of love and light. There is hope and joy wrapped up in that little gift – enough for the whole world. Lord, let it be!