August 11, 2016
My 2016 Ongoing Journey: Exploring Matthew to discover what following Jesus and becoming more like him would look like.
Matthew 17:24-18:5 ~ This is a strange text: it’s got corrupt religious officials, religious taxes, a rabbinic riddle, a Hans Christian Anderson-like fairy tale solution; then it ends with a discussion about politics.
At some point the the tithe had become a legally binding “Temple Tax.” That’s just one of the ways religion is corrupted when it attains political power. Jesus compares the temple tax with tribute exacted by a conquering king.
The clear implication is that the temple tax is illegitimate and thus not binding. But, in order to avoid any occasion for valid criticism of his movement, Jesus performs the old “coin-in-the-fish’s-mouth” trick and sends Peter off to pay the tax.
In context, this event immediately follows the transfiguration, the disciples' failed healing, and the second prediction of the passion. It then leads to the disciples’ question about who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Do you grasp the irony? They’ve just encountered the corrupting results of political power, and their next response is to ask, essentially, “What positions of political power will we have in the kingdom?” It wouldn’t be the last time they made such an inquiry.
I sincerely believe the greatest human problems—individually, relationally, politically and globally—emerge out of issues of power and control. The relationship between government and any other social manifestation always has been (and, apparently, always will be) a bone of contention among people.
The question of centralized government (The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, George Washington, James Madison, et. al.) versus states’ rights (The Anti-Federalists, led by Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason, James Monroe, et. al.) almost derailed the ratification of the US Constitution. Indeed, it was essentially that same debate that precipitated the secession of the Confederacy scarcely ¾ of a century later. It’s at the root of today’s political belligerence.
Political debate always has been about who will control who. At the infamous bottom line, while it may seem a simple lust for power, its root is fear and an absence of trust. (Whether the fear and absence of trust is justified is a valid issue for another discussion.)
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ lust for power? “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18:3-4). How’s that for a political platform?
If I am to follow Jesus, what does that say about my political stance? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
That's the way it looks through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,