Proper 24a – Sunday 16th October 2011
The Tories are in town.
Manchester is awash with blue as the Conservative Party holds its annual autumn conference. To mark this auspicious occasion, in their second year in government, the TUC held a protest march and rally through the city centre on Sunday. This was because of recent job losses, tax hikes, economic slowdown, pension problems and much, much more. It was a peaceful, happy protest. Very noisy and almost carnival like in its expression, it was deemed by all to be a great success. There were 35,000 people involved, including the very young and the very old. Even my wife went on the march!
Secretly, I’m jealous. Not because I’m a union firebrand – I don’t think religious clergy have a union affiliation – what would it be? NUMPTIES? Of course, that stands for National Union of Ministers, Pastors, Theologians, Incumbents, Eschatologists and Superintendents. I might be on to something here – I’m patenting that title today – get in contact if you want to join!
Whilst I’m not a union member I have a lot of sympathy for the trade union movement – because it seeks to give a voice to its members. Very Congregational, I have to admit! It stands up for rights. It gives a voice to those issues that otherwise would go unheard. It’s a constant thorn in the side, a reminder to the rich and powerful not to get complacent and out of touch. And the march was the physical support of those aims, and I’m glad my wife went on it.
I want to be a voice for the voiceless. I want to look for ways to speak up for the marginalised. Just like the example of Jesus.
I’m very pleased that as a church we’ve recently supported the work of The Mustard Tree in Manchester. The Mustard Tree was set up to help people across Greater Manchester who found themselves without home, food, dignity or hope. Through many different projects, in many imaginative ways, The Mustard Tree is helping meet a real need in the lives of people. The Mustard Tree do their work from a Christian perspective, founded out of Christian ideals and hope.
Now, you may well be saying, that’s all fine and good, but what’s it got to do with render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s… etc, etc.
For me, what this passage shows is that Jesus had an all round understanding of the world. He wasn’t just a religious man. He had a grasp and a real knowledge of the political world, the economic world, the social world, the physical world, the emotional world. So when Jesus spoke people listened. He could confound his critics. He could articulate the thoughts and the aspirations of those around him. His words brought great comfort and hope.
And this question isn’t just about tax – or rather it was, but the answer Jesus gave blew it wide open. We have to be submissive by paying our taxes, obeying the laws, playing our part in society, making our relationships work. But over all that God must reign. Our integrity and honour must be such that we bring glory to God through every aspect of our lives – and not just the religious dimension. Faith is so much more than just religion.
I like the conclusion that Dan Clendenin comes to on this passage over at Journey with Jesus:
Paying your taxes is simple. However distasteful, you hold your nose and write a cheque. Rendering relative honour to that subordinate Caesar is the easy part, and perhaps even necessary. As a friend of mine once observed, civilization is expensive, and taxes pay the tab. But absolute allegiance to an ultimate God, rendering our entire selves to Him without preconditions or limits, without hedging our bets, demands a higher order of magnitude. That takes a lifetime.
I’m in it for the long haul. Are you?