The added punctuation, which could be texting-code or twitter-ish for some meaning I have not intended, is simply meant to emphasise my hesitation and bewilderment at the meaning of the verse in Matthew 22 where Jesus slips out of a tight spot he found himself in by speaking the famous words, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Those words seem fairly clear, but then again, what do they really mean? How do we put them into practice?
I recall a cartoon or poster I saw years ago that read something like, “There has been some discussion about what we owe to God and what we owe to Ceasar and we have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to God.”
As a teenager I thought that was a good answer, and a cute one. More recently I still think it’s a cute answer, but not a good one. It doesn’t help us to sort out the practical questions of the degree to which we are called as followers of Christ to be active in politics, and to what degree we should ‘leave it all up to God’.
I was raised in a fairly traditional, rural Swiss Mennonite congregation and I had a fairly clear sense that Mennonites didn’t do politics. That was for ‘worldly people’. Then when I grew up and learned about Russian Mennonites and realized that, yes, Mennonites ‘did politics’ too!!! The more I have studied the issue of Mennonites and politics, the clearer it is to me that the broader Mennonite tradition has for centuries, since the early Reformation, carried on a relatively productive, yet unfinished, debate (polite discussion, fierce argument), concerning our role in the political realm. The question of what we owe Caesar and what we owe God is difficult to answer. On Sunday the sermon will address some of the challenges of both extremes – of full-on political involvement and full-out avoidance of politics.
The scripture reading for this sermon will be Matthew 22 vv15-22.