The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Give to Caesar what’s his (readings for Sunday, Oct 19)

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The Imperial Denarius

The Roman Imperial Denarius

I hear from zealous anti-tax folks from time to time, who usually pop by to take issue with my Poverty, Government, and the Bible essay.

Some are eager to prove that government shouldn’t be involved in helping poor people—catch your breath and plunge in here—because taxation is theft because it’s taken against our will and since taxation is theft it obviously isn’t God’s plan for governments to help the poor because God would not be pleased by stealing the money it would take to do so nor by helping the poor against the will of the stingy.

Well, hokum.

Arguments are only as good as their underlying assumptions; the cornerstone of that one is that taxation = theft.  And we know this is true because . . . ?

“Well,” they might say, “It’s obvious!

‘Twasn’t obvious to Jesus.

Taxation was controversial in Jesus’ day, too.  After all, the national government was dominated by an invader’s occupying government, and taxpayers were getting a double hit.

Now the Roman government had no legitimacy, except that of force.  Roman coins—adding insult to injury—rubbed double-dose revulsion into the sensitivities of the locals.

The imperial denarius displayed an image on both sides.  On one, a feminine image, perhaps the goddess Roma.  On the other, Tiberias Caesar.  Judeans, who thought images idolatrous, would have found this appalling.

But worse, under the male image were words which, translated, say “Tiberias Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Divine being the shocker to a Judean: “Blasphemy!”

The story will make a sermon this week, but suffice it to say that when asked about whether to pay taxes Jesus passes up the opportunity to say, “No way!  Don’t you know taxation is theft?”  Instead:  “Give to Caesar what is his and to God what is his.”

We sometimes despise what our taxes are used for.  But the imperial denarius paid the wages of the soldiers that put Jesus to death.  “Give it,” he said.

What that means has a few different possibilities.  I’ll work on those for Sunday’s sermon, which should get posted here next week.

But clearly, what it doesn’t do is provide a groundwork for chintzing on the responsibility of every culture to care for those in need.

Proper 24 A:  October 19, 2008

Exodus 33:12-23 or Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 99 or Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Matthew 22:15-22

Paying Taxes

15-17That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18-19Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

20″This engraving-who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

21They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

22The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Isaiah 45

The God Who Forms Light and Darkness

1-7 God’s Message to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand
To give the task of taming the nations,
of terrifying their kings-
He gave him free rein,
no restrictions:
“I’ll go ahead of you,
clearing and paving the road.
I’ll break down bronze city gates,
smash padlocks, kick down barred entrances.
I’ll lead you to buried treasures,
secret caches of valuables-
Confirmations that it is, in fact, I, God,
the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
It’s because of my dear servant Jacob,
Israel my chosen,
That I’ve singled you out, called you by name,
and given you this privileged work.
And you don’t even know me!
I am God, the only God there is.
Besides me there are no real gods.
I’m the one who armed you for this work,
though you don’t even know me,
So that everyone, from east to west, will know
that I have no god-rivals.
I am God, the only God there is.
I form light and create darkness,
I make harmonies and create discords.
I, God, do all these things.

Psalm 96

1-2 Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing!
Sing to God-worship God!
2-3 Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,
Take the news of his glory to the lost,
News of his wonders to one and all!
4-5 For God is great, and worth a thousand Hallelujahs.
His terrible beauty makes the gods look cheap;
Pagan gods are mere tatters and rags.
5-6 God made the heavens-
Royal splendor radiates from him,
A powerful beauty sets him apart.
7 Bravo, God, Bravo!
Everyone join in the great shout: Encore!
In awe before the beauty, in awe before the might.
8-9 Bring gifts and celebrate,
Bow before the beauty of God,
Then to your knees-everyone worship!

1 Thessalonians 1

1I, Paul, together here with Silas and Timothy, send greetings to the church at Thessalonica, Christians assembled by God the Father and by the Master, Jesus Christ. God’s amazing grace be with you! God’s robust peace!

Convictions of Steel

2-5Every time we think of you, we thank God for you. Day and night you’re in our prayers as we call to mind your work of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope in following our Master, Jesus Christ, before God our Father. It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. When the Message we preached came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions.

5-6You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!-taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.

7-10Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore-you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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3 Responses

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  1. I think that’s a good hypothesis.


    October 16, 2008 at 3:00 pm

  2. Good thoughts, hp! I’ve been hearing people say lately, “The problem is not government; the problem is bad government.”

    I wonder if dogmatism always ends up damaging compassion?


    October 16, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  3. Monte, Majutsu, until very recently, used to use the same “taxation is theft” argument, but he’s had a change of heart. I think it takes some maturity and the compassion that comes with it to understand the truth of all this.

    I agree with Sen. Biden about paying taxes being patriotic. After all, we want an army and police that can protect us, we want courts to keeps us from infringing on each others’ rights, we want roads on which to travel with traffic lights to keep us safe. (And yes, we need a reasonable safety net to protect those of us who fall behind, many of whom are women and children who do not fare well on the street.) How does this get paid for? With taxes, of course. When Gov. Palin mocks the idea of paying taxes being patriotic but then rattles the saber against Iran and all the other countries she’d like to go to war with, what is she saying? That the troops should fight without pay, and without armor to protect them? That the vets, when they come home traumatized and injured, should not be given health care or educations to help them make their way into civilian life? The lack of logic (not to mention compassion) is astounding.


    October 16, 2008 at 8:25 am

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