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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
     Friday, October 3 2003 

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Gospel and politics, 4

The usual interpretation of Jesus' call to "render to Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" is that it supports doing your civic obligations as well as serving the Lord. And though Bishop N.T. Wright's book doesn't exegete ("unpack" or track down the text to its most basic meanings) this text (which appears in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20) can be seen in a completely different light if you take what Wright says about the Judaism of the First Century seriously. If you believe that the Judaism of that time (much like that of our own time) was inescapably wrapped up in political theory, advocacy, and action, Jesus may have had a much more "ironic" or at least double-edged meaning in these words.

For what is God's, anyway? Only the "religious" part of life? Just "Sunday-go-to-meeting"? No, as we saw in the passage quoted from Wright on Monday, he believes that the Gospel answer to "what is God's?" is, "everything." In Wright's words, the claim of the Gospel is "cosmic," extending to every aspect of life, even the political. And though "what is Caesar's" is not "absolutely nothing," it's much less than the secular/sacred balanced dualism that many see in the statement. Wright suggests that Jesus actually meant something more like, "render unto Caesar as little as you can get away with." The fact that thousands of Christians died over their refusal to simply burn incense in honor of Caesar(s) over the next two centuries supports that intrepretation and undercuts any finding of any dualistic interpretation. And elsewhere Jesus says specifically, "you can't serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:25), not the kingdom of God and the godless Roman empire or, Wright is proposing, any other movement toward more godlessness or—as is more commonly said these days—more secularism.

My "assignment" on Monday asked that you look into a Christian campaign that was recently waged in the state of Alabama, in large part by conservative Southern Baptists, to encourage the voters there to reform the state's taxing structure. Though new taxes are seldom advocated by conservatives, in this case the state is taxing families whose annual income is about 75 percent below the nationwide poverty line. This, say a number of Christian advocates, including the state's governor, is so obviously against clear teachings of the Old Testament and the New, that it can only be called "unChristian," and voting to preserve this injustice is voting unChristianly. I seldom argue on the basis of claimed Christian principles in support or opposition of a specific political candidate or cause, but this time I'm ready to agree.

But this tax issue in a state far away from possibly everyone reading this is just an example to drive home a point that was impressed to me with much force by reading Bishop N. T. Wright's, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Think about it (but not too long)

Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

—Sent by Bill Dalrymple 

Thought for today

He alone deserves to be remembered by his children who treasures up and preserves the memory of his fathers.

— Edmund Burke (1729-1797) 

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