I have said it before, but I will say it again. Jesus was a troublemaker. He caused trouble in a good way, but trouble none the less. Jesus caused trouble because he spoke the truth that many people did not want to hear or be confronted with. He flipped the power structure of the world upside down. He redefined kingship and leadership in a world that said “survival of the fittest” long before Darwin by saying the first will be last and the last will be first.
People say the trouble Jesus was causing and they recognized it I believe and let me explain why. Have you ever noticed in the gospels how the religious leaders are always trying to catch Jesus in a trap? This is because they know that Jesus is causing trouble and they hoped to catch him causing trouble to have reason to stop him. Yet, every time they caught Jesus, they realized that he was doing nothing wrong. The trouble Jesus was causing was introducing truth, love, and freedom to a world which often ignored these qualities for lies, hate and oppression.
The story I am looking at today does not deal directly with the religious leaders attempting to trap Jesus, but it does deal with Jesus speaking into a situation and causing “trouble.” At the end of Matthew 17, Peter is questioned about Jesus and taxes. When Peter returns, he is speaking to Jesus about it when Jesus tells Peter that his children are free from paying taxes, but then tells him to go out and catch a fish and in the fish will be a coin which he is to pay to taxes (Matt 17:25-7, NRSV).
Now before you run off saying you no longer need to pay taxes because you are a Christian and Jesus said his children are free from this you must look at what Jesus said. Jesus tells Peter to go pay taxes with the coin. Jesus would have caused trouble if he told Peter he did not need to pay taxes and it was okay if he did not. However, what witness would this be in the world? Yet, Jesus causes trouble by saying that his followers do not need to but are still to do it. I can tell in 10 minutes on Facebook that many Christians would be jumping with joy if they did not have to pay taxes. So why did Jesus tell Peter to go pay taxes after saying he did not need to?
To be a witness.
We are beginning to come out of the time where the church was known for being judgmental, holier than thou, and condescending. A few years ago all we saw was “Christian group” after “Christian group” spewing hateful things in the media and world. The church was not known for the radical love Jesus demands of his followers, but instead for everything that they hate. Yet, Christ calls his followers to be the salt of the earth, and there are a few major things which salt does.
- Salt enhances.
- Salt enhances flavoring, and the church is to enhance the teachings of Christ by living in a Christ-like manner.
- Salt preserves.
- Salt preserves meat and other things, and the church should preserve and keep alive the teaching and love of Christ.
- Salt magnifies.
- The best steak is simply salted and peppered to magnify the flavor, and Christians are to magnify who God is to a world who is missing that.
Christians would lose so much power to their witness and reach if they were to not pay taxes. You have heard many times to live in the world, but not of the world, and as cliché as this is, I believe it is fitting for this. Christians should make the best neighbors, citizens, and friends because we should be embodying the love and character of Christ. While the people who were trying to maintain the status quo of lordship and power of people opposed Jesus, the crowds loved and adored him. The religious leaders tried to trap Jesus to cause both the government, but more importantly the crowds, to turn on Jesus.
If you know some of my personal beliefs and convictions, you understand that I struggle with this as much as anybody. I do not believe in the government of the United States being the answer to save or bring hope to anybody, and so it is just as easy for me to want to stop paying taxes and instead give more money to the church to reach and meet people’s needs. Yet, this is not what Jesus has called us to. Jesus has called us to love others, to respect those over us, to submit to those in power, and stand up for the oppressed. Sometimes these will stand in opposition because of human corruption, and we see how Jesus chose to stand up to the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed. Yet, while Jesus was standing up to them, he continued to pay his taxes (as this story implies), and one can only assume his temple fees as well.
The heart of this story though is not about taxes. It is about maintaining a positive view in society so that your witness is not tarnished. Christians are to live in the world and not of the world. Christians should make the best neighbors, citizens, friends, employees, etc. The Holy Spirit resides in you and is working in you. As you submit to the Spirit’s work in your life in the process of sanctification (being made into the image of Christ), your witness will continue to improve because your love and treatment of others will continue to.