As I continued my bike ride, however, I kept thinking to myself if I were to post such a sign, what messages it would contain. I certainly agreed with many of the statements on the signs I had seen, but they also did not capture all the essential truths I had committed myself to as a Christ Follower and Steward of God. So, completing my ride and spending a few minutes in my office with Microsoft Word, this is what I came up with:
As I contemplated what people might think about seeing such a sign in my yard, I also considered adding a statement at the bottom that might say: So who in the world am I supposed to vote for???
All of this has made me reflect on the story in Matthew Chapter 22 when the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to proclaim his political allegiance and trap him into a no-win confrontation. “Teacher,” they said, “what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If he said “Yes,” then it would be an admission of support for the pagan state of Rome with its incredibly decadent emperor, Tiberius Caesar, as well as a slap in the face of Jewish temple leaders, the self-proclaimed guardians of the God-fearing Jewish faith. But if he said “No,” it might endear him to the priests and surrounding crowds but could very likely put him in mortal danger of reprisal by Roman authorities.
Maybe it’s because of this current season of election fervor in America, but never before have I seen the context of Matthew 22 in such a political light. It was as if Jesus was being pressured by two tremendously powerful and influential political parties. On one hand, the Roman state represented big government, big taxes, social services that were intended to provide equality for all ethic groups (sort of,) and an “open-minded” morality that did not condemn anyone’s sexual preferences. On the other hand, the formalized Jewish religion of the day, guided by the temple high priests, represented local government with freedom and liberty for the Jewish people (at least from Rome,) clear mandated moral principles supposedly based on the God-given Torah, and law and order imposed by temple guards built on long-standing Jewish traditions (like stoning someone caught in the act of adultery.)
See any parallels to some political viewpoints we have today?
With this new contextual insight, it is all the more remarkable how Jesus answered this trick question. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” He sided with neither of the political party choices being presented to him but instead marked a “third way” alternative that set a completely different course based on spiritual insight that seemed to have escaped everyone else. In other words, Jesus did not succumb to a simple binary political choice. He drew his perspective instead from his identity as God’s Son and the ultimate “Citizen of Heaven” (Philippians 3:20) where knowledge and understanding flowed directly from God’s Truth, not man’s biased perspective of reality. In essence, he said to give respect to the governmental authorities that are currently in place regardless of their righteousness. Even Tiberius Cesar, as personally immoral as he might be, presided over a state that had to be credited for a significant measure of social structure and stability. But simultaneous, do not let that respect eclipse a man's obligation to acknowledge and revere his Creator or the divine laws and values He has given mankind. What an amazing synthesis of understanding leading to a clear "third way" of behavior totally beyond the capacity of either political party of the day to contemplate.
So back to my yard sign. Even though I have not actually created and staked such a sign in my front lawn—yet, it does challenge me to think carefully about the binary choices I am being offered this election season. More importantly, it makes me wonder how my “heavenly citizenship” is guiding me to determine what set of essentials I should be embracing, regardless of whether or not they fit neatly within one or the other of today’s popular political platforms. Moreover, in the spirit of Jesus’s remarkable reply to the taxation question, what “third way” alternatives does God want me to champion and promote today in the same way his followers championed and promoted his teachings creating the greatest and most powerful movement in human history—totally superseding both Rome and the Jewish temple culture?
I’m not exactly sure what the right answers are to all these questions. But just maybe, I should start with a yard sign.
By the way—what’s on your sign?