13 They sent some of the Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you’re genuine and you don’t worry about what people think. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?”
15 Since Jesus recognized their deceit, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a coin. Show it to me.” 16 And they brought one. He said to them,“Whose image and inscription is this?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” His reply left them overcome with wonder. Mark 12:13-17, CEB
As we come to the close of the election cycle, I’m reflecting on how embarrassed I am at how many Christian leaders approach politics. They will tell you why the candidate of his/her choice reflects God or the teachings of Jesus because of an issue here or an issue there. These candidates, it seems to me, have very little interest in reflecting God. At the very least, I don’t know of any who share my particular way of seeing faith.
The government is Caesar. It rules. It does what it will. It’s mostly self-interested. It uses God-talk to manipulate people into voting one way or the other. Jesus’ response in this passage suggests that government is a reality we have to deal with, but it has little to do with our ability to live out our certain way of seeing. This response is rather dismissive, but it implies something interesting.
There is room enough for us to give to both Caesar and God. We don’t use our tax money as an offering and we don’t use our offering as a tax.
What does this mean for us during this election season?
Our government and our faith co-exist, they are not one in the same. We respect the government and authority but we don’t let it pull us away from our certain way of seeing. We can participate in the government through taxes, voting, etc. but never do we let these acts become more important to us than living in accordance with our certain way of seeing. If we are always committed to our certain way of seeing then we are giving to God what is God’s. If participating in an act like voting pulls us away from our certain way of seeing then we shouldn’t do it.
In other words, taxes don’t prevent us from giving to God that which is God’s. If we’re not giving to God that which is God’s, then we must find whatever it is we need to give from some other source. Taxes, in this example, are simply a metaphor. Think about it like this: If our interest in political discourse and conversation prevents us from being the gracious, merciful, loving people we’re called to be, then we’re not giving to God what is God’s.
We can be vicious, resentful voters. We cannot be vicious, resentful followers of God. So, if the act of voting is bringing out our vicious and resentful side…then we need a new plan for how to let our politics and our faith co-exist.