Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. (Mark 12:17)
This is my first blog post after returning from an eight-week sabbatical. As the congregation spent time looking at the core of Lutheran Christian teachings, I have been reflecting on a lot of things about how we worship, connect with our neighbors and increase our spiritual vitality as followers of Jesus. The ongoing concern about a global pandemic is escalating as people realize that what has been happening in other parts of the world is increasingly likely to be happening her as well.
That’s why a text like this one gets to the heart of so much. We have many hopes and dreams. We have many concerns. How do we put them all in place and keep things in perspective?
One way is by focusing on Jesus. His teaching shapes us and his death and resurrection provide the base from which we live out of hope, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
In the encounter we see this week, Jesus has been approached by religious leaders who want to trap him with a trick question: In dealing with money, does God or the world get priority?
On the surface, Jesus’ answer is a simple one: Give to God what is God’s and give the rulers of this world what is theirs.
So, what does that mean in practice? While it has many layers of meaning and served to keep Jesus from falling into the trap that the questions were supposed to set for him, there are two things that seem clear. First, Jesus is not here to “compete” with the world but to offer himself for it. There are things where the world calls for our faithful participation and we should do so. But notice that he says, “Give to God what is God’s…” first. God gets our highest loyalty and the hope that is ours in Jesus provides the base from which we relate to God and then to the world God has made and loves.
So, in times like these, remember to first ground your life in hope, love, joy, peace and all the other fruits that the Holy Spirit offers to us. Start with God. And then, with that context, participate in the life of the world around us faithfully and as fully as possible. That may mean a lot of different things for all of us in the months ahead. We will have to wait and see how things in these turbulent of times run their course. We will most likely have to give up some things we are used to having and doing. But the life of faith calls for meaningful and purposeful sacrifice. As we give to the world what we are called to give, may we do so with peace in our hearts, for Christ dwells in and works through us.