29 Oct Three Thoughts to Carry to the Voting Booth
As we approach the coming election, into the middle of all that you’re feeling and hearing, allow me to add three brief thoughts and things to consider as a Christ-follower when you are voting. My goal would be to try to “trim away” any weeds that try to creep into the edges of our vision as we consider a political election or candidate.
When Jesus himself was asked a direct, yes-or-no, political question on THE hot button issue of his day (a tax issue that was turned, essentially, into a referendum on faith) in Mark 12, he (as usual) did something unexpected.
Jesus is asked this, by two groups of people (the more conservative Pharisees and the more liberal Herodians): “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
What was Jesus’ response to a “yes or no” question?
“But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
What does this show us? It shows us, I think, three things to avoid when considering our vote:
1) We should avoid political simplicity.
Did Jesus give a simple answer to a yes or no question? No (wait, was that too simple? Kidding). Why not?
Because the question was politically loaded. If he answers yes, pay the tax, he appears to support the morally liberal party who called Caesar a god and essentially affirms the status quo. After all, the inscription on the Roman coin Jesus called for had written on it, next to the face of Caesar: “Son of the God Augustus, pontifex maximus, high priest.”
This was outrageous to the Jewish community, and therefore to say yes to paying the tax would appear to be appeasing the dominant power. On the other hand, if he answers no, don’t pay the tax (this imperial tax was levied for the distinct privilege of being a Roman citizen), he is supporting the morally conservative party, and is essentially calling for an armed revolt.
Which is why he “knew their hypocrisy”. Each side is trying to get him to be, essentially, a single-issue, single party voter. Yes or no. Us or them. Instead, he gives a nuanced answer that critiques both sides. At this point, let me ask you: Was Jesus scared? Was he a compromiser? Was he afraid to take a stand? Hardly. What’s he doing? Avoiding political simplicity.
2) We should avoid political complacency.
When he says “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”, he appears to urge political involvement, in a strange kind of way.
Because when he is asked the question, Jesus changes the wording in his response, and he’s doing it intentionally. They ask him, should we pay Caesar, and he says, not just pay Caesar, but when he says, “Render”, it means to pay back Caesar.
Why? Well, what does a tyrant get paid back with? What should a despot get in return for his despotism? Doesn’t he deserve at least a little resistance? Wouldn’t that obligate involvement?
As Christians, then, we should avoid complacency, realizing that as salt and light, we have a preserving and illuminating part to play in whatever culture and time period we exist.
In other words, for this coming week, we should at least vote, if not do more than vote, and “sprinkle our salt” in that way.
3) We should avoid political supremacy.
That is, we should avoid thinking that the ultimate change that God Almighty desires will come from a change in leadership or even in governmental systems.
Of course, leadership matters, and of course systems really matter– limited government is better than monarchy, for example– but ultimate change won’t come from toppling dictators or voting in a new president. Why?
Every system, essentially, just moves the furniture around the room. Every political system, at some level, puts one group in that was formerly out, who continues to exclude another group.
So, what’s Jesus going to do about it? He’s going to show us a better way, right here: Because, when Jesus says, “Bring me a denarius”, there’s a certain irony, isn’t there? Why? Because the very one who is about to change the world literally does not have a coin in his pocket.
He can’t even teach about His kingdom without borrowing money from someone else. He’s the King without a coin, but He’s about to change the world. Why? Because His values are inverted from the values of the world: The Kingdom of Man says, power, money, success, and recognition are where it’s at.
Jesus says, in my kingdom, things like mourning (grieving over sin), being poor in spirit (acknowledging need for rescue), being meek (not bragging about oneself and one’s accomplishments), and being a peacemaker (being able to understand what it takes to reconcile enemies) are what’s valued.
Do you think there’s a political system on earth that entirely embodies the values of the Kingdom of Jesus? If not, then perhaps we should avoid ascribing to political supremacy, that is, giving our heart’s allegiance, to a system or party.
Jesus was the King without a Coin, he had no super PAC, no superdelegates, no electoral votes, and somehow he changed the world. How? He lived out his values: He grieved, he mourned, he became poor and meek and the ultimate peacemaker, though it cost Him his very blood and life.
My hope and heart are that as we avoid simplicity (we think deeply through issues and candidates), as we avoid complacency (we realize our involvement is important), and as we avoid supremacy (we avoid giving our allegiance to a system or party), we would also embrace the values of the Kingdom of God, and prove ourselves to be true followers of the King without a coin.