Friday, January 20, 2017

Render unto Caesar What Belongs to Caesar and Render unto God What Belongs to God

People have pointed out recently that we are not primarily Democrats or Republicans or Independents; we are, first of all, Americans.  In the aftermath of a tumultuous primary season and a bitterly contested presidential campaign, these are conciliatory words.  Love of our fellow citizens  should run more deeply in our veins that partisan loyalties. They are not, however, the last word for some of us.

For those of us who have confessed faith in Jesus Christ and have vowed to follow him in discipleship, there is a more enduring and demanding core to our identity: love of neighbor, which Jesus so entangles with love of God that we cannot in the end separate the two.  Clintonistas and Trumpsters and Bernieites who claim to be followers of Jesus simply are not permitted to put partisan, political loyalties above love of all our neighbors.  There is no noun or adjective referring to a human being that can be justification for not loving her or him all the time as we love ourselves.  Jesus has excluded all possible excuses.  When he said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, Jesus pretty much shut down any exceptions (Mt. 5:43-44).  We are permitted to pray “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do [Luke 23:34],” but we still must labor to love them. 

We are loyal Americans, and out of love of country we aspire toward a spirit of unity.  We owe that to Caesar.  But we owe a deeper thing to God.
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”  And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matt 25:37-40).
It is clear that Jesus did not mean we should simply coexist with or tolerate our neighbor; we owe that to Caesar already.  Jesus means people around us should say:  “Will you look at that? That person must really love that other person.  Usually people like that don’t care for one another.”  That is what we owe to God.  If we read the rest of the story in Matthew 5, we see what a grave mistake it is to confuse what we owe to Caesar with what we owe to God. 

In the aftermath of a divisive election, it may be more challenging to love all our neighbors; but this is what we signed on for when we fell in behind Jesus.  So celebrate, protest, or watch "Frazier" reruns; but let us not confuse civility with Christianity.   May God grants us the grace to be faithful in all our relationships with all people all the time.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State