When You Don’t Like Your Rulers

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Most cinephiles could immediately tell you where this quote comes from: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!” It’s from lips of Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. It comes during the climatic court scene of the movie and the line is delivered like an atomic explosion. What is truly phenomenal about the scene is the way the tension keeps dialing up throughout, imperceptibly at first until you feel that if Nicholson doesn’t explode soon, you might.

If there is an equivalent to this scene in the life of Jesus, Matthew chapter 22 is it. It was so striking that Mark and Luke record it in much the same manner. Here Jesus is tested by the various Jewish religious factions of His day and in a final repost of His own, leaves them dumbfounded. And the first, which we consider here, is probably the most well known.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Matthew 22:21

For those who cannot bring themselves to identify Jesus as God Himself, but only a master teacher, it is moments like this that underline His wisdom and eloquence. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the might of the Roman Empire and the political sentiment of His own people, Jesus masterfully turns the question. What we are considering now is not “What obligations can I get out of?” but “What do I truly owe others and God?” The Pharisees are interested in political maneuvers, Jesus the stirrings of the heart.

I think most issues of submission boil down to heart issues. Now I know that as soon as I use the “S” word in Christian circles many want to talk about its application in marriage, but let’s stick with Jesus’ original context here and talk about submission to governmental authority.

It is an open secret in Jesus’ day that the people collecting Roman taxes were corrupt. It was even entrenched in common speech, “tax collectors and sinners” being short hand for every kind of disreputable person in the Empire. And a hated empire it was. Every devout Jew longed for the throwing off of Roman shackles and freedom from Roman taxes.

So it would seem that if Jesus wanted to find fault with Caesar, it would not have been difficult. Yet He doesn’t. He directs His audience to examine their hearts.

I look around Alberta and I see a lot of people finding fault with Caesar still. Particularly in their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government of the day is not seen as worthy of our submission. This is particularly striking when you consider that Caesar never obtained a majority vote from the citizens of the Empire before he began his rule. Most of us in Alberta voted for these people who are now our government.

So here’s my challenge to you today: Rather than grumbling about the impingement of your freedoms, consider why that impingement bothers you so much. Reflect on that, and let God rule in that space too.

Lord, I want to love you with all my heart, soul and strength.

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