Lectionary Week, Year A
Moses said to the LORD, "See, you have said to me, `Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, `I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." 14 He said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 And he said to him, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth."
The LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, `The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him–
and the gates shall not be closed:
I will go before you
and level the mountains,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the LORD do all these things.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor’s." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and the Herodians, when questioned about taxes paid to Caesar, suggests that those who use the money coined by a power are subject to that power’s determination regarding that money. It is important to note that nowhere in the gospels is Jesus represented as having used money. In this pericope Jesus has to ask for a coin to be shown him. We have suggested that the ways of the shaman help us to understand how it is that Jesus might have experienced himself as completely in the care of God. Because of this, we also believe that he did not experience the structures of “culture” as something “necessary.”
Nowhere do the gospels show Jesus using money, yet some 40% of Jesus’ teaching involves metaphors or discourse regarding money.
Money is THE cultural mechanism of substitution. That the phenomenon of substitution finds its origins in the substitution of the scapegoat as object/victim for our rage gives us pause as we discover any other medium of substitution. Money, though, raises substitution to new levels of potential violence. It stands in for our work. We receive it in exchange for our work, but more than that, it creates in the holder of the money an obligation, a vulnerability to culturally sanctioned violence. Failure to give money in exchange for goods or work received creates state authorized culpability known as “debt.” Debt functions socially as a kind of shame, a means of extrusion, of preparation of the victim for the next orgy of sacrifice.
Jesus’ response to his interlocutors is to help us see that as long as we see ourselves as beholden to the exchange of our time for money (and that money for possessions), we lock ourselves into a system governed by state authorized violence. I’ll say it: earning an income is perilously close to idolatry. It becomes idolatry when we NEED it, when our desire for money outstrips our desire for God.
Jesus’ answer may seem evasive, but it turns the question back on the questioners. It asks, “Whose is this, anyway?” It says, “In whose providence will you place your trust? In whose world do you choose to live? God’s? or Caesar’s?” It asks the same question of us.
(For more thoughts on the danger of “possession,” see Jeff’s piece on Stewardship in the Occasional Papers area.)
Klaus Wengst, Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ has excellent exegetical observations regarding today’s text. See also the essay by F.F. Bruce “Render to Caesar” in Jesus and the Politics of His Day, edited by Ernst Bammel and C.F.D. Moule.
Unless what you earn falls below the poverty level, you are going to pay taxes, get used to it. Try not paying taxes and you will enjoy the hospitality of the State in a prison cell. The State will take you for every last red cent, just ask Willie Nelson!
There is a small debate today among some who argue that Christians should refuse to pay taxes to a government that sponsors war. We suggest instead that it is more productive to find representatives that can be elected to Congress that reject war and campaign for them. Taxes and tributes have been around since the dawn of civilization and they will be with us to the end of time. What we need are representatives that will see to it that our tax dollars are spent as a reflection of our faith.
Today’s pericope doesn’t ask us questions about the validity of taxation, but about our own understanding of our relationship to the things we “own,” or that Caesar “owns.” This is the core of what it means to be “poor in spirit,” what the vow of Franciscan poverty is all about.
As is suggested in the stewardship piece, this is a question of freedom and slavery, a question not only of what belongs to us, but what we belong to. (Or whom!)