Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The One Sided Coin

This week I would like to make a comment concerning the ongoing culture war by considering a well known incident in the life of Jesus.  I will translate it from Mark's Gospel account (Mark 12:13-17) because the other Gospel writers (Matt. 22:15-22 and Luke 20:20-26) probably used Mark as their source material:

And they sent away certain ones of the Pharisees and Herodians in order to ensnare Him [Jesus] by [His] word.  And after they came, they said to [Jesus], "Teacher, we know that you are true, and in you is no bias concerning anyone; for you do not look into the face of people, but you teach the way of God in truth.  Is it lawful to pay the poll tax [i.e., a tribute imposed by Augustus in 6 C.E.] to Caesar or not?  Should we pay it or shouldn't we pay it?"  But having seen their hypocrisy, Jesus said to them, "Why do you test Me? Bring to Me a denarius so that I might look at it."  They brought [Him one].  And [Jesus] said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?"  They said to Him, "Caesar's."  Jesus said to them, "Pay the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God."  And they they were exceedingly astonished by Him.

Brother, nothing is new under the sun, is it?  The same political manipulations and trickery used two thousand years ago live on today without mitigation.  Duplicity is one of humankind's best weapons against its self.  Our advanced technology definitely has afforded us the ability to refine duplicity into a high art and science, but we are still as nasty as ever.

Some nineteenth century American scholar/statesman--I don't remember his name--once said something to the effect that politics makes strange bedfellows.  It's true.  Here we see two opposing forces in first century Palestine--the Herodians, who represent the economic and political arm, and the Pharisees, who are the religious arm--in cahoots to blacken Jesus' eye of reputation in order to turn the people against Jesus.  They attempt to liquor Jesus up with  Jim Beam's oldest and most potent recipe affectionately dubbed, "Vanity."  They hope that in His inebriated condition He would slip up and either answer "no" and get the Romans down on Him for fomenting sedition, or answer "yes" and incite the Jewish zealots against Him.  What they don't understand is only the will of God intoxicates Jesus--as it should all of us.

What we need to see in understanding Jesus' response is what coinage represented in the minds of people in those days.  Whoever struck a coin was in effect saying, "this is my realm, my rules, my things!"  Whoever's money you exchanged with others marked you as an ally of the minter of the money.  For this reason, the Jews only used faceless coins minted by either Herod, Herod Antipas, or, until the reign of Vespasian, the Romans in deference to Jewish sensibilities (see A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Hendrickson (2000): p.740).  In this way the Jews maintained their allegiance to the Jewish nation and therefore God.

Don't miss what they were doing in the incident under discussion.  In order to win their culture war against Rome and Jesus--because Jesus, by standing outside of the war, was undermining the causes of both sides of the conflict--the Jews willingly contradicted their own sacred beliefs and traditions; they resorted to using their enemy's methods to achieve their own purposes; they showed their true alliance was with the sword which they hoped someday to wield, but for the time being remained in the hand of Caesar.  The Herodians had long ago bought into the so-called truth of might makes right; but the religious Jews were not far behind them; they would later fully capitulate to this so-called truth when they would confess before Pilate, "We have no King except Caesar!!" (end of John 19:15)

 Jesus' answer to all those hypocrites might be restated as, "Let Caesar do his gig, you play God's gig."  Jesus wasn't into culture wars because the present world order--if we can be so gracious as to call it an order--will do whatever suits it, and what suits it will always oppose the perfect order and love of God's kingdom Jesus has brought to us.  This doesn't at all mean Jesus condones or doesn't care about all the evil persisting in the present age--He does, and so should we.  But such evil will never be beaten by its own methods because the evil feeds on its methods.  The present world system will only be vanquished by the methods of God's kingdom, which are love and forgiveness.

As members of Christ's kingdom juxtaposed on this grim, dark, and evil world system, we should not be trying to fight a culture war because eventually we will be drawn in to use the same tactics and methods of our opponents--that's how wars always work.  Inevitably, as did those Jewish leaders of two thousand years ago, we will attempt to make our point by investing our enemy's money against them, as if to say I represent one side of the coin and you represent the other side.  In reality, though, the coin is one sided.

For example, we cannot hope to show the truth of God's kingdom by repudiating abortion while at the same time war mongering and supporting the death penalty and harboring bitterness against other people, as evidenced by a relentless spewing of vitriol against everyone who doesn't see it our way.  In the end, everyone is killing everyone else.  Instead, we must stand for the sanctity of all life by investing ourselves in a crumbling society by trying to lift people from the desperation, despair, and false allegiances leading them to their murderous decisions and outcomes.  We do this by living according to the sacrificial and humble nature of God's love, which by its very definition means we won't be liked by the present world--indeed, they will try to snuff us out.  But we should not be deterred because God's love is the Truth; and we know this because our King, Jesus the Christ, is alive.  I mean, really folks, what are we afraid of?

Our fear is palpable because we insist on fighting a culture war.  As long as we keep fighting culture wars, all that our opponents will see is our fear.  And our fear will defeat us because fear is contrary to the only force that can bring life, beauty, and peace.  As John writes in his first epistle, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear holds punishment, the one who fears has not been perfected in love." (I John 4:18)

The people of the present world system are afraid, so the methods they employ are fear based.  When we use their methods we show them we are afraid, too.  There is only one side to the coinage of the present world system, and it is fear.  We need to bring to this fearful world a new coin--a rare, precious, and beautiful coin--that has been minted in a kingdom they do not know, yet long for without knowing it.  We need to dazzle them with the resplendent and bright coin of God's holy love by loving them as Christ has loved us.  Only in the light of the stark contrast of our fearless love will they perhaps come to see their fear and all that fear leads them to do to escape it, only to keep dragging them farther down into its hopeless misery and despair.

Jesus said, "I have spoken these things to you so that you might have peace in Me.  In the world you have tribulation.  But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)