When I was in elementary school one of my favorite language arts units was on Mythology and Folklore. I would love hearing myths about how things were created, and about these larger than life characters in books with beautiful illustrations to capture the imagination. One of my favorite series was about Anansi the Spider, a character from the Ashanti people located in modern-day Ghana. Anansi was a trickster and his hijinx would often cause trouble before he was caught in the same webs he weaved. Anansi was a smooth talker, and would use the power of speech to lure others into achieving his goals and it is often through another’s clever wit that Anansi would be found out and the moral of the tale taught.
In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus finds himself in a battle of wits with the Pharisees and the Herodians. After flattering him they pose a question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Jesus knows that in spite of the flattery, this question does not come from a place of innocent curiosity. His questioners’ words intentions are far more dangerous, regardless of whether he says yes or no. The Pharisees didn’t support paying taxes to the emperor and the Herodians did. So Jesus gives both an object lesson. He asks for a denarius (de-neh-ri-us), a coin used to pay the tax in question. And he asks whose image is on the coin, and what is his title? And they answer that it was the emperor. And Jesus responds: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Hearing Jesus’ response they were amazed, likely confused on how to proceed, and so they left.
Jesus’ answer is a complex one about the relationship between faith and politics. He does not say that these two spheres exist in isolation from one another. Politics, according to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary is “The total complex of relationships between people living in society.” Just as the coin bore the image of the emperor, we are created by God and bear God’s own image, which means that we owe God everything. Everything belongs to God, the emperor’s realm included.
How do we give to God what belongs to God? One example is to give of our time, talents, and treasures to the church and to organizations that support our ministry goals. But if everything belongs to God, then our spiritual and political lives must converge. That is NOT to say that one political party aligns more than another, however. Jesus’ ministry worked intimately and consistently with the relationships of people in his society, where he lifted up the lowly and oppressed. Jesus’ ministry was political, not partisan. Jesus very clearly does not take sides in the dispute between the Pharisees and the Herodians, but challenges them both in their thinking.
So how can we align our faith and our politics? In a video released on Thursday, Bishop Egensteiner gives one example: voting! Mail in voting is already in progress and in-person early voting begins this coming Saturday. He reminds us that we aren’t Christians some days and U.S. citizens on others, but that we are both simultaneously. As reflections of a loving, forgiving, and gracious God we connect our faith and political lives when the values our faith instills inform our choices. By researching candidates and voting for ones that we find most aligns with what Jesus teaches us, we allow these two realms to coexist. As a result, the endless sacrificial love of God is able to project into the world. The coin very clearly belongs to the emperor, the emperor’s face is engraved upon it, but our first loyalty is always to God, in whose image we are made. Empires rise and empires fall, but God’s Kin-dom will out live them all. To quote theologian Debie Thomas Empires are limited and temporal. God’s realm is eternal and all encompassing. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The two are inextricably linked. Make a plan and don’t forget to vote!