Holy Week Meditations (Tuesday): Death and Taxes
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling promises of old. The humble Suffering-Servant-King will come to redeem and restore the world. He has flipped over tables in the Temple saying: I am the true Temple, come and worship me when I’m raised on the third day.
The parables of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel speak of the relentless grace of God who sends the Son out into darkness so we could be brought into the family. Parables of vineyards, tenants, and workers revealing an exercise of missing the point.
An expectant Messiah has come to put things to rights and you want to kill him. Ignore him. He must die, but don’t miss the obvious: Jesus is the one you’ve been waiting for.
Matthew 22:15-33 “Death and Taxes”
Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees and Herodians about taxes. They don’t want to know the teachings and opinions of Jesus. These religious leaders want a reason to kill him. But I digress.
Question: should we pay taxes to Caesar? An important question for Jews living under the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire. These highly taxed people funded the evil agenda of the Romans. You could say, they paid others to have themselves oppressed, and often killed.
Jesus, being Jesus, says to hand him a coin from the empire. On the coin is the image of Tiberius Caesar, and the saying: “Divine Son of God.” On the back of the coin an image of Roman goddess Pax, the High Priest of peace.
Here’s Cesar who not only rules the Roman Empire but sees himself as the Son of God. A deity. The Roman goddess, Pax, saw herself as the god of peace.
Jesus is the Son of God. He’s the Prince of Peace, and God of peace. Interesting.
Jesus’ response to whether the people should pay the high taxes of the empire and fund more oppression and violence is not the question. The question is one of worship. Who is the true God?
The Old Testament Scriptures are clear that pagan rulers are pawns in God’s sovereign plan of redemption. The Living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is in control of the universe and all kingdoms.
Jesus says: give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. What? Pay your taxes, red to Caesar, be a civil citizen of the empire. Our kingdom and fight is different.
But, remember who is the true Son of God, and God of Peace, me. Your ultimate allegiance and life will be found in me, not the empire. Pay your taxes, but remember I’m not here to start a revolt and overthrow the government, my Kingdom operates on a different plane. I’ve come to die for my enemies, forgive, love our neighbors, turn cheeks, and offer peace and hope to suffering people.
When you see the image of Caesar on the coins, remember whose image you are made in, and who is remaking you into his own image.
But wait, there’s more. Jesus is caught up in another debate a couple verses later over resurrection. Seems like a weird exchange to include in Matthew’s gospel. But the conversation over taxes and resurrection is almost the same conversation.
The Sadducees didn't believe in resurrection. But resurrection for Jews wasn’t getting into heaven when you died. Resurrection was about the future when God would make all things new and his people would reign and rule with him on earth. Resurrection had a political tone to it for these ancient peoples. God and his people ruling in the Kingdom of God.
Why does this matter?
The question about who will be married to whom in heaven, after multiple marriages, is not the real question. It’s a question of: do you believe in the Scriptures and the power of God?
Jesus nails them and says: you know neither. If you did, the question about resurrection would be obvious. The OT speaks of resurrection all the way through. Resurrection and future hope woven into the entire narrative of the Scriptures. Not in question.
But these Sadducees were not reading the Scriptures with a close eye. If so, they would know earthly marriage, would have no place and no need in the future Kingdom.
Jesus is saying: I’m the one who will be resurrected and will reign now and forever on the earth with my people. If you knew my Scriptures and power, you’d know that marriage in heaven makes no sense. My love, and peace, and life will be enough for you in heaven. You won’t be an angel, but like one. You will have a new resurrected body.
Marriage is good, and God given. But my presence and love and friendship and life will be enough to sustain you in my Kingdom. Lift your eyes from the earth and its present reality and see the Kingdom of God in the future…
The question about taxes and resurrection are the same, and the answer is the same. Jesus is the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Will you find the Son of God, the God of peace, and the one who says: I’m the resurrection and the life be enough for you? Empire work, and violence, and oppression, and evil is not our game.
We are different people, a new people. Will you find everything you need in me? I’m going to make it possible by death and resurrection.
Death and taxes are evident. But in Christ, we have nothing to worry about. Everything will be made new in him.
“Merciful Father, open our eyes to see you in the Scriptures, and the evidence of your power in our lives. Forgive us for seeking to trick you, minimize you and your work in our lives and the world. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we have a hard time accepting your clear teaching in our lives. Help us believe and walk in resurrection power. May we live with a living hope because of the resurrection of Jesus.”
Image: Creative Commons (pixabay.com)