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Archive for August, 2015

In Matthew 22, when the religious leaders come to Jesus and try to trip him up by asking him what they think is a shrewd question that will stump Jesus, Jesus once again turns the table on their simplistic thinking. They ask him what he believes is the most important commandment. Without hesitating, he tells them that the first is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and secondly to love your neighbor as yourself. It is hard to know what the religious leaders were expecting. Perhaps, they were looking for something such as, thou shalt not commit adultery, do not make graven images, or do not bear false witness. However, Jesus gives them an ethic rather than a law or rule.

When Jesus states that the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbor, it is taking the level of commitment and devotion to the next level. It is fairly easy to avoid stealing, bearing false witness, and refusing to make graven images. It is more difficult to turn your heart to true love for God and one’s neighbor. The religious leaders of Jesus day wanted him to give them the most important “rule.” Jesus wanted to lay down a new ethical system that would completely uproot the law code while also calling for a deeper and more profound level of values and commitment.

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In Matthew 22, the story is told of Jesus being asked a very tricky question regarding paying taxes to the Romans. It was a sabotage situation where two groups, both the ultra religious Pharisees and the followers of Herod, who were trying to trip Jesus up. On one side were those who wanted Jesus to call for direct rebellion against the Roman system of taxation and the idolatry which it encompassed. On the other hand, there were those on the side of the Romans who wanted Jesus to put the Jewish zealots in line. They presented Jesus with an A or B equation, is it right/lawful to pay taxes to Rome or not? However, Jesus answers with C.

Jesus would not easily fall into the camp of the zealots who were seeking rebellion against the Romans and of course would avoid paying taxes. However, he also refused to side with the followers of Herod who wanted complete allegiance to Rome. When seeking an A or B option when it came to Roman taxes and allegiance, Jesus chose C. He did not join with the zealots and their rebellion, which Jesus knew would eventually lead to violence and massive heartache for the Jewish people. He told them to render under Caesar that which was Caesars. However, he subverted the allegiance to Rome by making sure that the people knew that they should render to God what was Gods. The allegiance of people should never be to Rome or any other nation or empire. Jesus advocated a type of “peaceful subversion” of Roman values.

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In Matthew 21, Jesus famously turns over the tables of the money-changers. When we think of the story, we often think of the greed of the money-changers and the complete disrespect they had for a house of worship. However, one aspect of the story often gets overlooked-the money-changers were largely Jews who were exploiting outsiders who were coming to worship. The incident where Jesus overturned the tables was actually in an area called the “Court of the Gentiles.” The money-changers were doing what many modern banks do-exploiting a change in currency to make themselves wealthy. Jesus had enough of their exploitation and their treatment of outsiders.

In the account of Jesus and the money changers, Jesus squarely puts himself on the side of the Gentiles and outsiders who were being exploited by Jewish nationals. The call of Jesus and his Kingdom is not merely to treat the outsider, foreigner,  and immigrant (regardless of legal status) as equals, but to actually advocate for them and stand beside them in the position of vulnerability they are often in. Being pro-immigrant is not just a political or social position, it is at the heart of the Kingdom of God.

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