Jesus and Taxes: Prologue
According to Garry Wills in the New York Times article, "Christ Among the Partisans":
"There is no such thing as a Christian politics. If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian... This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not."
Wills should know better than this. Obviously there is such a thing as Christian politics, because that's what people have "made of Jesus" (= Christian). But even if Wills means to suggest only that Jesus himself -- the historical Jesus -- wasn't political, he's still wrong. The Nazarene, like most apocalyptic figures of his day, was aggressively political. The kingdom of God called for political change in every way, a heaven on earth not least involving the crushing of rulers and their oppressive regimes. It may not have been the kind of political change modern Democrats or Republicans have in mind -- and it was a supernatural kingdom too -- but it was political nonetheless.
"[Jesus] avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, 'Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him' (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state."
Wrong. Separation of church and state is an anachronism (Jesus wasn't anticipating Anabaptism). Jesus took sides on the question of taxes, and he believed Caesar's rule to be illegitimate. What he meant by "Render to Caesar" may be foreign to both parties of the modern American system, but it's even more foreign to those of us who (however rightly) cherish our separation of church and state.
Over the next week, in a three-part series, we will examine what Jesus really meant by "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mk. 12:13-17/Mt. 22:15-22/Lk. 20:20-26/Thom 100). I suppose it's an ideally suitable topic for tax season.
The complete series:
The Hidden Transcript