Thursday, October 16, 2008

Give to the emperor...

... or as the old translation says, "render to Caesar..."

I haven't preached in a few months, since a while before the tree fell, as Kevin has very kindly not bugged me about getting back on the rota, but we recently had a convergence of my volunteering and his asking (he just got back from CREDO, the same program Padre Mickey went to --different place, different group-- and Caminante will go to next year, and from there had to go almost directly to Clergy Conference) and I am on for Sunday.

I have my thoughts about the several lessons for the day, but I am curious about your collective wisdom on the "render to Caesar" passage. So how 'bout it, campers? Your thoughts.

I'll start: Doing biblical study is a little like doing detective work. The Gospels are not a reporter's account. They tell us as much about the communities that produced them and the communities for whom they were intended as they do about what was going on in Jesus' day. I remember being in a group of people in which one person (an older Presbyterian woman) said the meaning was obvious, and another offered a different, equally obvious to him, interpretation. The fact is, this is one of those texts with which we have to wrestle, in today's context of today's empire. What is certain is that the text points to a preoccupation of the early Christian communities -- their relationship with the empire in which they lived. Remember, too, the last few Sundays, where economics shows up as a major theme. Here we have both economics and politics. And, as always, the kin(g)dom of heaven.

This is the context in which to place the election, the economy, and everything else. But I don't think the answer is a simple formula.

So, have a look. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Then go to the Comments.

P.S. One rule: I will not allow simplistic interpretations of or misuse of "Pharisees" as "hypocrites" or "bad guys." For more on "Pharisees" and Christian (including progressive Christian) misuse of the term and its promotion of both theological anti-Judaism and antisemitism, see some of Sarah Dylan Breuer's fine reflections on the topic. For Jesus and some of his followers, the Pharisees were family. The disputes with them were internal. We have treated them as if they were disputes with the greater powers of the day, ignoring those powers --those of the Roman Empire. The greatest Pharisee, after whom Jewish campus centers are named? Rabbi Hillel, of precious wisdom and revered humility. Nuff said. Read what Sarah wrote. She's the biblical scholar.

Matthew 22:15-22

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.


Magdalene6127 said...

In keeping with your refusal to brook clicheed understandings of the Pharisees... Boring (bad name; good scholar... in the New Interpreter's bible) says that, in fact, in the four controversies that begin with this one, Jesus agrees with the position of the Pharisees each and every time. So there goes that scapegoat!

I am focusing on the question, Whose image is this? If the image is of Caesar, it must belong to him. This leads to the inference that if the image of God is on us... you see where I'm going. Not original to me... something that stood out in my reading at Textweek.

Happy preaching! Do you love it? I do.

it's margaret said...

Because of Grandmere Mimi --I have Bruggemann on my mind.... now, about that money: I am thinking about Pharaonic systems of oppression and slavery --how others work to make a few rich, and how true that is for us today.... and how that same money is part and parcel of Pharaonic systems.... and yet we use it liturgically as symbolic of our life and labor which we offer to God.... And how, through Baptism and Eucharist we are offered another WAY of being which is not part of the Pharaoh's regime--and has a different discipline than the one that is exercised to accomplish the money thing.

Now, at this time of night --I am not even sure I have spell the regime name properly... oh well. But that is where I am right now in my meditations.... like it might even make sense!!!

Jane R said...

Thanks, dear sisters. (Y'all out there who are not preachers, this call for reflection applied to you too. Power to the laypeople!) You've helped my thinking move to the next stage. I am pondering the question "to whom do we belong?" and how the liturgy reminds us of this each Sunday and inscribes this on and in our bodies.

Shannon said...

The first of four services at the prison was abbreviated due to fogline (too foggy to see anyone moving) so instead of 40 minutes, we had 15. We read only the gospel and to begin my homily, I asked, "Who do you belong to?" There was a brief hesitation, then someone finally said, "God." I went from there to ask how someone would know that we belong to God.

A tattoo? A cross or rosary around our necks? A bible in our hands?

The folks were quick to say no, that it was actions that pointed out those who belonged to God.

It was a good day.