In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus comes up against the Pharisees yet again. When asked about the legality of paying taxes to the Roman emperor, he catches them in their own trap. The Pharisees wanted to know what Jesus thought of taxation – one assumes they were hoping he’d say something against the Roman emperor, which would be treason, or something against Mosaic Law, which would be heresy. In true form, Jesus turns it around on them and asks to see a coin. Then he asks who is depicted on the coin, a denarius, and what title is there? When they give him the obvious answer – the Roman emperor and his title – Jesus replies with his famous words:
Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt. 22:21 – NRSV)
A modern conundrum came to mind when I read this.
I thought of the Right-Wing Conservative Evangelicals and other Christians who blindly follow our current President and turn a blind eye to his less-than-Christian behavior and the disdain he has for all but those who are loyal to him. A man whose only interest is self-interest.
Why do they follow an amoral, narcissistic, mean, pathological, lying, bully and misogynist? Isn’t his behavior antithetical to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus reached out to society’s outcasts – people we call marginalized – and sinners were among them. If Jesus were to come by Donald Trump on a road, would he say, “Friend, come, follow me,” or “Get behind me, Satan?”
We know it would be the latter, because that’s who Jesus is, and that is who Jesus asks us to be. He asks us to love one another as he loves us, and oh how difficult that is at times, to love one’s enemies.
But God’s love in unconditional and not transactional. It is God’s love that makes it possible for us to live out the Good News in Christ and follow the New Commandment Christ gave us at the Last Supper, that bit about loving one another.
Especially those Christians with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye.
Not all Christians are cut of the same cloth; we do have a common thread and that is Jesus Christ. We are diverse — some of us are outspoken, others circumspect, some liberal, others conservative. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 that: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” So there’s bound to be disagreements between Christians, and that is an understatement when one considers the history of church. One would think, however, that a Christian would strive to follow the teachings of Christ and encourage others to do the same while engaged in ministry.
The Evangelical branch of Christianity isn’t as old as the Church; it came into being in the eighteenth century as a blend of Pietism, Presbyterianism, a bit of Puritanism and High Church Anglicanism. This denomination has changed considerably since that time, especially in the United States. Knowing that the word ‘evangelical’ comes from the Greek word evangelion (messenger), I’ve taken for granted that their mission was to bring the Good News into the world, and the World back to the Church, because that is what I do as a Deacon. Happily, many do, and I have had wonderful conversations with my fellow Children of God on street corners in the Financial District, and on the train platform during rush hour, walking through my neighborhood.
Never did I imagine that there were some Christians, but not all, who would embrace a man like the President and seek to push their agenda through him. I call these people Lost Sheep.
I’m giving the Lost Sheep who follow Trump the benefit of a doubt. Perhaps when he was elected and sworn into office, they prayed he would take on a mantle of leadership and grow into the role of President of the United States to become a statesman like the leaders before him; that he’d become the President for all America and not just his adoring base, that he would build on the work of Former President Barack Obama and our United States would grow and prosper. We saw the photographs of ministers crowded around him laying on hands and praying for him. It looked promising and I hoped for a change, as I’m sure many did.
But, The Dark Little Noise inside my head that argues with me sometimes, whispered, “Get off it, Ellen! You know they only wanted him in office because he would back their opposition to reproductive rights and abortion! And he only wanted their votes and money! Both want to push us back to a more conservative and restrictive time like the 1950s when White was Might! Women and People of Color knew their places!”
Hmmmmm . . . . maybe It’s right.
What I don’t understand is how they can turn their backs on Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet who wasn’t forgotten by history as so many prophets of his time were, the prophet who fulfilled the prophecies and kept his word. He was the embodiment of God’s love on Earth. He said he would rise on the third day, and he did. His message was so powerful that two thousand years later, people still turn to his teaching and way of looking at the world. They hear and accept his radical and revolutionary message for all people.
I wonder if the Lost Sheep don’t read the Gospels, else they would know this.
We stumble and fall on our respective journeys to the Kingdom of Heaven and Christ is there to help us back on our feet and point us in the right direction, remind us of God’s love. But there are those who look to the President as their messiah, not Jesus.
I have a feeling that Jesus would rebuke them in the Temple and call them ‘whitened sepulchers (tombs),’ as he did when arguing with the Scribes and Pharisees later in this Gospel at Chapter 23, verses 27-28:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Harsh words indeed, but sometimes there’s no sugar-coating, nor saying it nicely.
I think that the Gospel of Prosperity took over the Good News of Christ in Jesus somewhere, and that the mindset, ‘Yes, well, that was then, this is now’ replaced ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’
All I can do is pray for those who follow the President.
What will it take for them to say the President’s behavior and words do not comport with what Christ teaches us and say ‘NO MORE?’ Will it finally dawn on them when they are asked upon meeting Christ before the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” How will they respond? Will they say, “When did this happen?” Jesus will say to them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of my bretheren, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:42-45)
Perhaps the reality of the President’s amoral and selfish attitudes, his disdain for the people he swore an oath to defend and protect, to uphold the Constitution, will finally sink in and they will say, “God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”
I pray to God and Christ that will happen.