The leaders sent some of the Pharisees and some of Herod’s followers to Jesus. They wanted to trap him into saying the wrong thing. When they came to him, they said, “Teacher, we know that you tell the truth. You don’t favor individuals because of who they are. Rather, you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor or not? Should we pay taxes or not?”Jesus recognized their hypocrisy, so he asked them, “Why do you test me? Bring me a coin so that I can look at it.” They brought a coin. He said to them, “Whose face and name is this?” They told him, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.” They were surprised at his reply. Mark 12:13-17
The Pope has been in the States this week. The news is full of stories of what he is doing, and how he talked to Congress about issues like immigration and climate change.
This story from Mark 12 about Jesus makes me wonder what Jesus would have done, given the same platform.
Because Jesus was also asked to get involved in politics. He was tasked with providing an answer to the question of paying taxes to the government. He was shown a coin with the face of an emperor on it. To the Jews, a coin with a face on it was blatant idolatry. Of course Jesus would need to speak out against it.
Yet Jesus amazes them by not standing against idolatry, not jumping into the political controversy.
What does he tell them instead? Give God what belongs to God.
This week I finally went and visited Connie*, an elderly woman who lives a few streets away, in my neighborhood. I’ve known Connie for almost 6 years, or at least I’ve seen her and her husband, Robert, as they walked, and I’ve said, “Hello” to them.
Before we knew their names, Ken and I would call Robert and Connie, the “wizened couple.” A couple of mornings or so a week, we would wake up at 5:30 in the morning and go jogging down the broad tree lined sidewalk of our subdivision. Every time we went out, no matter how cold, we saw this ancient couple hobbling along. The wife was tiny and wiry, with a puff of white hair. The husband was tall and bent over. Often, at some point, the wife would get out ahead, working her way up the hill, which was pretty steep. The husband would be some distance behind, shuffling along. In the winter they wore hoodies, with the hoods cinched around their faces.
Ken and I would jog past them, calling out a greeting and reining in our dog Buddy, who would sometimes try to run up to them to sneak in a sniff. And then after we had run our route and were on the on the way back, we’d come upon the wizened couple again, only this time they were not alone. They would be talking and walking with Mary, a fellow neighbor, a mother of teens, who ran long distances with her little terrier in the very early morning. Mary always ended her workout by strolling and visiting with the older couple. Often there would be a group of people talking to them. I called it the “Five Thirty Club,” because it was so wild to me that all these people who were out walking would cluster and talk and carry on in the dark before dawn. Sometimes Ken and I would stop for a brief chat, but mostly we were on a schedule, and we said, “Have a nice day,” and ran on.
And then, one morning, we stopped seeing Robert and Connie. We did run into Mary. She said Robert’s health was failing. Since Connie no longer drove, Mary herself was taking Robert to many of his medical appointments. I told Mary we would pray, and we did.
A few weeks later, Mary texted me to tell me that Robert was in hospice. I meant to go visit him. But other things seemed to fill my schedule.
A couple of weeks ago I saw Connie out walking again, with two of the members of the Five Thirty Club. One of them dropped back and told us that Robert had passed. She mentioned how much Connie would like a visit. I put it on my list of things to do, but didn’t get to it. The next week I saw the women again. “I’m going to come visit you,” I called to Connie as they walked by. “She could love that,” her friend said emphatically.
So this past Wednesday morning I made time to go visit Connie. We had such a great talk. She told me all kinds of things about the people in her life. One of the most amazing things she told me was how her friends went with her when she got with her preacher to make funeral arrangements. “What family members are these?” the pastor asked, about the three neighbor women who accompanied her. You see, Robert and Connie didn’t have any children, but the women in her neighborhood took care of them like they were family. The pastor couldn’t believe that these women were there for her in such a close way.
What a great example of loving your neighbor!
So as I think of Jesus, and the way he answered the Pharisees who were trying to trap him, it reminds me of what he said in Luke 9:60
“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Jesus just wanted people to go and do the work of God. He wanted them to “give to God what belongs to God.”
Thus, as it is so easy for me to get caught up in all kinds of issues, and affairs, I am learning to DO God’s work of caring for others more.
This is so hard for me. I can easily put it off until tomorrow and write blogs and newsletters, do yard work, house work, and so on.
But this week I went and visited Connie. It wasn’t that much, not nearly as much as the neighborhood women did for her.
But I think it’s what Jesus would have done.
*(The names were changed in this blog.)