5/17/15 Jesus and the Government

“My kingdom is not of this world.”

We Christians often wonder what Jesus would do. We ask ourselves that, not in response to some bracelet that clever marketers dreamed up with the “WWJD” inscription on it. We ask ourselves this because it is a prudent thing to do.

We also notice that liberals, leftists, progressives, atheists, agnostics, unbelievers, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and universalists of all sorts are sometimes quick to point out to us what Jesus would do, as if we didn’t know already, not that we always do what it is we should do, which is what the WWJD bracelets are all about.

Not wanting to argue theology, but preferring instead to limit the scope of this blog to the poor and the Christian obligation to help them, I think I need to point out a few things.

What we’d like to think Jesus would do is not necessarily what Jesus did, nor what He would do today. We have a record of what Jesus did and what He said. As imperfect and contaminated as many think this record is, it is the only record we have and is a much more reliable indicator of what Jesus would do than what we’d like see done that we project onto Jesus. Since there is no other record, anything we surmise that is not contained in the bible is simply that: projection.

Governments and the poor: I’d like to see records of the government programs Rome had in place to help the poor, not necessarily in Rome, but in those colonial provinces such as Palestine. It is likely that they may have distributed some free grain from time to time, especially during periods of famine, but Rome was not known for its fiscal benevolence towards conquered peoples. Rome was known to extract as much as it could in the way of taxes and tribute, which was returned to Rome, frequently being used to support elite Roman’s hedonistic excesses.

This is what Jesus expected from Rome: Nothing.

This is what Jesus expected Rome to do for Him: Nothing.

The people wondered about the Godly kingdom Jesus kept referring to and when it might be established, hoping for a quick end to Roman oppression. Jesus answered them and said, more than once, and somewhat cryptically to their way of thinking, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This disappointed some of Jesus’ followers who were Zealots (like Peter and Judas), who went about armed and advocated armed insurrection and overthrow of Rome. This ultimately led to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, Judas deciding that Jesus was not the promised messiah figure that would lead this rebellion.

Jesus did not participate in Roman government. He had no income or property, so He paid no taxes, but when asked about taxes by duplicitous Pharisees hoping to lay a trap for Him, He asked for a Roman coin from those gathered. Someone handed Him one.

“Whose image and superscription are on this?” He asked, holding the coin up for all to see.

“Caesar’s,” the crowd said.

“Then, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” He replied, telling the folks, in essence, if the coin has Caesar’s picture and name on it, it must be his, and they weren’t doing very much by giving to Caesar what was already his.

When arrested by the religious establishment, who He irked repeatedly by pointing out their corruption, calling them a wicked generation of vipers and thieves, proving Himself to be a bit more judgmental than folks like to think, and then was hauled before the Roman provincial governor, Pontius Pilate, the religious leaders hoping they could get Pilate to do their dirty work for them, Jesus did not defend Himself against any charges, but remained mostly silent, saying only, “That is what you say.” He did not expect the government to treat Him fairly. He did not seem to expect anything at all from the government.

So…when you admonish this Christian for not being a progressive, for not wanting more government, for not wanting the government more involved in what I perceive as wasteful spending than it already is, remember, the precedent I am to follow is not to expect anything from the government. If I am not to expect anything from the government other than the government’s obedience to its own laws, and I do expect that from government, then it is reasonable for me to think no one else should either. Yet, when it comes time to pay my taxes, I will look at the money I will use, and on it it says, “The United States of America, Federal Reserve Note, U.S Treasury.” I suppose I can’t get out of paying my taxes since the money has the government’s image and superscription on it; the money must belong to it. Unfortunately, the example I have to follow is that I cannot even cheat on my taxes. I must pay what I owe and all of what I owe. I regret that, but I have no other choice. It is what Jesus would do.

The poor? I am under a personal obligation to feed the hungry, offer whatever comfort I can to the sick and infirm, and to show love and kindness towards my fellow humans at all times. Without a doubt, my church is under the same obligation. This is not an obligation that can be vicariously assumed by government. It is not an obligation that anyone else can tell me is my responsibility as a Christian to place on the shoulders of government, since it is my personal responsibility and duty to my God. God will let me know when He needs me to do something when He places the burden on my heart, or sends someone with a need within my arm’s reach so I can obtain a blessing by being obedient by helping the very person God sent my way. If I won’t do it, God is not without other resources, which are not necessarily nor likely my Congressman or my Senator. I cannot shift my personal responsibility onto government.

Jesus fed, healed, and changed the lives of thousands of people. Where, pray tell, is it recorded that any of this was done with government money?

The revolution Jesus came to deliver was one that took place within the hearts of men, not in the halls of national governments. In fact, Jesus expected nothing from the government. Anyone who says differently is speculating, and speculating from the perspective of an agenda that can furnish no shred of evidence for the validity of such speculation.

The government that Jesus did object to was the governing body of the Temple, but this was completely a religious matter, though the Temple governors had some political authority over the lives of the people. Jesus’ argument with them seemed to be that they extorted money from the faithful for access to the Temple: that they grew fat and lazy, corrupt, and blasphemous, while being budensomely borne on the backs of the people they were charged with serving, sort of like national governments today.

“We’re from the Temple government. We’re here to help you,” they might have said to the faithful as they directed them to the money changers in the Temple courtyard to convert their in-kind goods to the only currency the Temple leaders would accept, and the exchange likely done at ruinous rates.

“We’re from the government. We’re here to help you,” said modern day bureaucrats, as their leaders allow them to spend more than the government has in income, virtually assuring the debasement of the currency, which is in effect a type of taxation, the nobility of the cause notwithstanding since cause nobility does not excuse poor performance, particularly from those burdensomely borne on the backs of the people they are charged with serving.

Unlike the Roman government, my government wants to feed me, educate me, guarantee my loan for my home, provide for my health care, furnish me clean air and clean water, develop and maintain transportation infrastructure and safety, guarantee me safe consumer products, healthy foods and drugs, keep me from the perils of my own fiscal foolishness, keep me safe from myself and others, and furnish me with a job with excellent wages and retirement benefits, generous vacation and sick leave, job security even through I might display egregiously bad behavior that would get me instantly fired anywhere else, and then give me bonuses to boot. I wonder who will pay for all this? Never mind…Caesar will take the money that has his image and name on it. It is his, anyway. It must be…it has his name on it.

In the meantime, I will be thinking of my personal responsibility to do what Jesus would have me do, which does not necessarily include the responsibility to transfer my personal obligations to the government.

What does this have to do with CLL?

Two things.

I have CLL and I was thinking about it.

If all I can think of is CLL, then fear is paralyzing me, and I am not much use to anyone for any reason. Stop being fearful. Live your life as best you can in the face fear. When your CLL gets bad enough that you have to stop doing whatever it is that you do, and can think of nothing else, then you will know that you will have done something in the face of that fear. Doing in the face of fear is called courage.

I wish you all the courage of your convictions and your personal triumph over fear

©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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