Mediation: Culture wars, Taxation, and Nation Building
Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matthew 4:17
Kingdoms always have culture wars, taxation and goals of nation building. In Jesus’ day religious Jewish culture was resisting the encroachment of secular Greco-Roman influence. Herod Antipas came to rule Galilee when Jesus was about 3 and stayed in power for 17 years. Caiphas, the high priest, governed Jerusalem and Pilate ,the Roman Prefect, had oversight over the territories.
Herod maintained secure borders utilizing Jewish rather than Roman troops. The laws, the courts, and the education was Jewish but the government protected the rights of the gentile groups living in the area. . Herod Antipas capitalized on the increasing unemployment problems by engaging in elaborate building schemes in the gentile areas. He built theaters and elaborate buildings dedicated to secular education.
Jesus lived in a diverse community at a critical time in history. There were secular cities springing up close by in Samaria and a new port of Caesarea. The tension between the secular and religious factions in the life of Jesus was inescapable and influenced the focus of his teachings and parables.
Jerusalem was a city in transition. The modern development of the theater and the debate over the display of graven images was an example of the clashing cultures. Modernization and diversity was a fact that all people were beginning to accept. . During Jesus’ adult life Caiphas was appointed by Rome as the commander and Jewish high priests policed the city.
Jesus did not live apart from politics. Galilee and Samaria were at war. Religious disputes and acquisition of territory were at the core of the conflicts. When he went to Jerusalem he was surrounded by Gentiles, Rich powerful Jewish priests, urban dwelling peasants and all the variations found in large cities.
Speaking out against animal sacrifice was a political act. The Jewish law was politics. John the Baptist took a political stand when he publicly condemned Herod for marrying his half-niece Herodias. The question of rendering taxes to Caesar was a political debate. Under Jewish law it was not permissible to have the face of a ruler on a coin. Jesus, well versed in the politics of Jewish law, exposed the hearts of the politicians. In essence he was asserting that if their politics has allowed them to accept the image of Caesar on the face of the coin then they are in violation of Jewish law. If they do not accept the authority of Caesar than they are in danger of execution. It was a conflict of interest they did not want explored and further.
Jesus’ politics were revealed with the focus of his ministry; Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. The politics of his kingdom addresses the spiritual and physical needs of the sick, the orphaned, widows, strangers and those suffering under oppression. He took the rich, the powerful and the hypocritical religious leaders all to task.
So how does his example apply to us today. We live in a representational government and we can impact the laws which protect the least among us and reign in the power of oppressors. We are, all of us together, the rulers of our national kingdom. The kingdom of God is the embodiment of the highest ethical standards. We are to pray (and act) that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus went about doing good in every demographic of his time. He showed mercy to those with little power and commands us to , “go and do likewise.”
Prayer: We honor your wisdom and your teachings. Help us to stand strong in mercy on behalf of the oppressed. Give us wisdom to chose representatives who will protect the powerless and hold to account those motivated by power and greed. As upi went about doing good help us to do likewise.
Action: Find out what your candidates stand for (by their fruits not their words) and then go vote.