To be in the world, though, does not necessarily mean to be of the world. I wonder if our Gospel this weekend might reflect the dangers inherent in falling too much towards our life in this world. Indeed, the Pharisees fear Jesus because He threatens their worldly authority, and they therefore want him gone. The question put to Jesus in this excerpt from Mathew’s Gospel this weekend is designed to trap Jesus in one of two ways. If Jesus endorses Caesar as a temporal leader in order to protect himself from the Romans, then Jesus’ many followers who suffered under Roman domination would become immediately disenchanted. However, if Jesus himself balked at paying the tax, then the Pharisees could prove to the Romans that Jesus was a rebel. At that point the Romans would deal with Jesus without the Pharisees dirtying their hands. Either way, the Pharisees figure they have Jesus trapped.
The problem with this plan is that it completely missed the point of Jesus’ ministry. Even at that stage, while Jesus focused on Israel, Jesus didn’t preach temporal revolution or political action, but personal repentance and preparation for eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Jesus did not come to the world to discuss tax policy, or to play politics. He did not suffer death on the cross and the glory of resurrection to reorder international boundaries. His mission was to save people from their sin, no matter where they lived, what language they spoke, what currency they used, or under what kind of government they lived.