|The Tribute Money Jacek Malczewski|
- Exodus 33:12-23 and Psalm 99 •
- Isaiah 45:1-7 and Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13) •
- 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 •
- Matthew 22:15-22
In the eighth chapter of the first Book of Samuel, the Israelites ask Samuel to appoint a king. At first he takes this to be a painful rejection of his own authority, but then he learns that its true significance lies in what it says about their faith in God. Thus a long history begins in which royal power and the sovereignty of God come into regular conflict. Notwithstanding the short lived triumphs of David and Solomon, the end result for Israel is political division, and conquest. Moreover, in one of the Old Testament lessons for this week, Isaiah actually voices God’s explicit commission to one of these conquerors, Cyrus King of the Persians. “I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they [the people of Israel] may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me”.
|The Tribute Money Emil Nolde|
The Roman conquest in New Testament times was just one more episode in the long history of Israel's subjugation. In John’s account of the trial of Jesus before the Roman governor, the subject of kingship figures prominently. When the leaders of the Jews shout ‘We have no King but Caesar!’, they reveal a radical division in their own minds between the hopes they place in God and their recourse to political power. In response, Caesar puts a sign above the dying Jesus. It reads ‘King of the Jews’. Though prompted by a desire to provoke, no doubt, it is an insightful action. The sovereignty of God is indeed, mysteriously, revealed in the Cross. The imperial power of Caesar ruled the ancient world; it counts for nothing now. At the time of his execution Jesus was virtually unknown. Yet he turned out to be the Incarnation of God, and as the real Christ counts for everything now.
Against this background, the instruction, ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ warns us about getting our ultimate priorities wrong. In the Epistle Paul praises the Thessalonians who “turned to God from idols”. Political power is one such idol, and it has proved endlessly alluring, even to Christians with the best of intentions.