Monday, March 10, 2008

Bible study: Jesus the Reframer

Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar or not? ... [Jesus] said to them, 'Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?' They said, 'Caesar's.' He said to them, 'Then render to Caesar's the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.'" (Luke 20:21-25, also Matthew 22: 15-22, Mark 12: 13-17).

"'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?' And [Jesus] said to them, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:36-39, also Mark 12: 28-31, Luke 20:25-28).

In the parallel text Bible study last night, Bill, Ken, Johanna, (it was good to see all of you!) Roger and I discussed the above passages. As usual, Jesus takes a dualistic either/or question meant to trap and pigeonhole him and reframes it. When Jesus then tells his listeners to render onto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's, he leaves it up to them to discern which is which.

In the next passage we read, Jesus conflates two separate commandments from Deuteronomy: love God and love your neighbor. This is one of the few instances of Jesus offering straight answer to a question, but, as usual, it's a response that places responsibility for discernment on the listener.

It strikes me how often Jesus is asked questions with an underlying agenda, and it makes me wonder how often we ask still ask questions to trap people. This is neither plain nor authentic.

Last night, we struggled with the question of war taxes: should we pay taxes to that which opposes Jesus' message of peace? Is our money God's or the state's? How important is money to the Kingdom of God? Do we place too much value on it? Is it wrong to withhold it to coerce people?

Jesus rejects simplistic answers to questions. I believe he doesn't give easy answers because he wants to engage us fully in thinking, feeling and understanding what is like to live in his community (the Kingdom of God). Rejecting formulaic answers is part of loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls. Jesus wants us to examine our preconceptions and our grids. He wants us to embrace a world that is not dualistic but holistic. He wants us to become fully human.

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