Carrying Caesar

24 Oct

How often do we find ourselves being captured by our own hypocrisy when we are trying to take the moral high ground on some particular issue in society?

We boom authoritatively about the rights and wrongs of a situation, throwing invective after invective at those who disagree with or hold a different interpretation to ourselves only to find that we are guilty of the very thing we accuse them of.

It is so easy to be so right that we are wrong, to be so righteous that we are guilty of sin and keen to entrap another that we end up trapping ourselves.

Much of the popular political debates of our recent times may find us being caught out when we want to be so sure we are right, when we take an I know what God demands stance we may find ourselves having to justify the unjustifiable, to answer questions from those who have the right to question us on moral issues.

The church has little to say here due to its past involvement in the patriarchal colonialism it manipulated into a partnership with those in power. We have to take a giant step back, review our own sins and find a new way to work with those who are now rightly wary of us.

The Herodians and Pharisees, natural enemies, uncomfortable bed-mates, come to Jesus and set a trap to catch him out. The position is a sure one. It is based on the Torah, the law, and based on Jesus’ rebellious and progressive theology it was sure to work. Ask him whether we have to pay taxes to the Romans. If he says yes, which he probably will, then we have him for blasphemy for it is clear in the law that you do not pay taxes or tributes to anyone but God.

Jesus is clever. He asks but one question – whose image is on the currency of the day? Thinking they have him they drag a denarius out of their pocket and show him – “The Emperor’s”! Then Jesus says its simple, give what belongs to the Emperor back to Emperor and what belongs to God, to God. Don’t get them mixed up.  By the way, he may have added but didn’t need to, his point had been made; what is the property of the Emperor, a graven image of a man, doing in God’s temple?


The blasphemy they sought to trap Jesus into was sitting in their pockets, rubbing up against them as they read and prayed, all the time believing they were beyond condemnation. They were blind to the reality of how one makes accommodation for reality in direct conflict to belief and pious practice.

When we proclaim to know the will of God we may be further from practicing it than we imagine others are.  A little truth Jesus drops on them is: in the certainty of your dogma and knowledge of God’s teachings, you are behind those who do not pretend to know what God wills.

The institutional church is traditionally playing catch up with the world. It is a case of these are my people, I am their church, where did they go? In fact we end up having to run fast to try and keep up with the compassion, inclusiveness and justice the world exemplifies and practice without us, and often, before we do.

One could understand the Herodians having a coin in the temple, but the Pharisees, the ones who held to the law? Again, it’s simple really. We accept those things that are necessary for life and existence and currency is necessary for survival in an economic community. They would not have equated the image of the Emperor on the coin the same as carrying a graven image of another God. It was simply a tool necessary to survival.

We accept what we are told is appropriate for us and our survival without thinking about the demons and the hypocrisy we unleash when we do so. This week all state governments handed your driver licence photo over to the security agencies in this country to be used to identify Australians when they walk down the street, go to movies or concerts, shop at shopping centres or go to the footy. These will be cross-checked to see if you have been or might be naughty some time in the future. At the same time we have new laws allowing children as young as 10 being locked up without charges on suspicion of terrorism. No one has screamed about this, not even the church, yet we are deeply concerned about our freedoms if people in love get the opportunity to marry?

We are told these new laws are necessary to keep us safe but they won’t. They will ensure that fine defaulters, traffic offenders and others guilty of minor offences are locked up. We will have more mothers such as the aboriginal woman in WA who called for help in domestic violence, only to find herself locked up for fine defaulting and breached at $250 each day she was in the lockup until the fine was paid.

Yet some in the church are convinced they know the will of God on what will destroy society and what will not. What destroys society and the church is our wilful blindness to the things that matter and to our complicity in the crimes we accuse others of.  Jesus makes it very clear to these guys – you are up to your necks in this and it is because of your audacity to think you know the truth and to judge people by standards you do not judge yourself by.


Jesus challenges us: what are the images of Caesar you carrying into God’s temple, remembering that your body is God’s temple, what thoughts, words, actions and rationalisations do you bring with you when you enter in here and when you join with others to point your fingers at those you judge? It’s a tough question and it will take some serious reflection, dialogue and radical reimagining of our faith and theology if we are going to avoid the same error as the Herodians and the Pharisees. Only you can do the due diligence necessary to maintain integrity and authenticity. You will fail but that’s ok as long as you never become certain you haven’t.

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