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The Politics of Jesus

Weekly Devotionals

The Politics of Jesus

Mark 12: Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

It seems that anywhere you look these days, you cannot avoid politics. Whether it’s the United States, Europe, or Korea, the world revolves around the latest political news. The sociologist James Hunter noted that when society fractures, politics becomes central instead of other spheres of life because it’s the only source of legitimate coercive power. In other words, politics becomes the only way to force others to do what we believe is right.

Against this backdrop, Christians are playing the culture war once again. Many have aligned themselves with political parties to gain a seat at the table and have a voice. The dominant public witness of Christian churches has been a political witness.

Jesus faced the same temptation to use political, coercive power to start his religious movement. The passage from Mark shows that the Pharisees considered it blasphemous to pay a tax to the king. They wanted Jesus to take a stand and pick a side. They were really asking him, “What’s your politics Jesus?”

Instead of taking up power and starting a political revolution as many expected, Jesus gave his life and started a communal movement. He was a king who didn’t claim the throne but choose the cross. He choose love over power. We are reminded that Jesus Christ came into the world as a king that choose not a nation-state, but a people, his church. This alternative community doesn’t just serve itself, or its own party, it serves the world.

We need to ask if we are more known for our political allegiance or for taking in widows and orphans. Does the world recognize us based on a litmus test of a few hot button issues or will we be seen as ambassadors that serve those that we disagree with? If we believe his story to be true, then we need to reevaluate how we try to win over the world. We are citizens of God’s kingdom before we are American or Korean, conservative or liberal, white or black, rich or poor.