I am reading Jim Wallis’ latest book, Christ in Crisis? Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence, published this year, 2020. Wallis is a Christian Evangelical Preacher and scholar steeped in social justice according to the teachings of Jesus. I have followed him for years. He touches my need to find relevance in my Christian faith. I am not a person who thinks being a Christian is just about giving ascent to a doctrine. For me it is about following a person, Jesus of Nazareth, whose life and teachings come to me in written form in the New Testament. If people want to haggle over what the cross means or whether Jesus ascended into heaven or whether his miracles were literal events or symbolic, fine. For me, life is too short and the world seems to be going down a snake hole. Wallis has offered me hope if for no other reason than there are people like him living in our midst.
What Wallis sets out to do is pose questions about our government, its policies and practices, based on the stories on the gospels. The one I want to focus on is The Caesar Question. The story of reference is familiar to most Christians because it is often used to show that obedience to government leaders is what God wants us to do. I heard it said that this is the basis of Vice-President Pence’s deep faithfulness to President Trump. I suspect that Pence would use the same story Wallis uses here to explain his loyalty.
The story goes this way:
The Pharisees went off and made a plan to trap Jesus with some questions. Then they sent to him some of their disciples and some members of Herod’s party. “Teacher”, they said, “we teach the truth about God’s will for man, without worrying about what people think because you pay no attention to man’s status. Tell us, then , what do you think? Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not?”
Jesus, however, was aware of their evil plans, and so he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin for paying the tax.”
They brought him the coin, and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”
“The Emperor’s,” they answered.
So Jesus said to them, “Well, then pay the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.”
When they heard this, they were amazed, and they left him and went away.
Here’s the deal. Jesus’ consciousness and his teaching was all about the Kingdom of God. He believed that this Heavenly Kingdom was real and anyone who just opened their eyes and ears would see it. This is why he came to his people, to announce the Kingdom. Remember his conversation with Pilate before he died? Pilate asked him if her were a king, and Jesus responded that he was but not in the way Pilate would understand. “My Kingdom is not of this world.” In other words, Pilate as an earthly king had nothing to fear. He wasn’t going to take over Rome.
But Jesus went on in his discussion with his questioners. Pay your taxes, obey the law, but pay to God what is God’s. He was setting a priority for his followers, for Christians today, for me. I pay my taxes and I follow the laws until what God wants of me conflicts with what the state is asking of me. This is really clear.
Religious leaders like Wallis are adamant about the choice Christians need to make. When the government makes laws that are unjust, resist them, he preaches. Even when disobedience leads to your arrest, as it has for Wallis. This was clearly the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and M. L. King.
“If you are a Christian living in the Kingdom of God, how are you supposed to live in the Earthly Kingdom?” Read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, note his actions. Choosing the Kingdom of God is not an easy choice…it can lead to trouble. It did for Jesus.