In recent months it has been noted that the head of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, has positioned towards what many have interpreted as a vehemently anti-capitalist stance. During the Pope’s recent week long visit to Latin America he referred to the prevailing economic system as a ”subtle dictatorship” which, with its ”greed for money”, amounts to the ”dung of the devil.”(1) It is also the case that recent theological projects, perhaps the most well known to the general public being that of theologian Reza Aslam, have found a Jesus with political impetus to his fervour. Reza’s thesis is that discourse level interpretation of Jesus does not match with the Jesus of history. Hence, requirement for historical understanding seems to entail. Where I disagree is in taking this disconnect as necessarily so, for it will be shown that by being attentive to a certain passage a Jesus just as politically aware is made apparent. The passage we shall determine is the following from the Book of Matthew, 22:15-22 :
15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
Jesus has entered the holy temple, and we should reflect that Jesus holds his ”father’s house”(Luke 2:49) , the cultic centre and dwelling place of God(Eze. 43:7), to have been desecrated through economic practices that he took as having turned this ”house of prayer” into a ”den of robbers”.(Mttw.21:13) Also of note is that on leaving Judah for Jerusalem, Jesus took his disciples to one side and prophecised that his journey to Jerusalem would have him, ”delivered to the chief priests and scribes. And they will condemn [me] to death.”(Mttw.20:18) It is with this latter note in mind that we can understand the predicament that the Pharisees’ question, given in order to ”entangle”, places Jesus in. ”Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” ask the Pharisees, and as this is taken as a question which may entangle Jesus, we can infer that paying tribute to Caesar was not to Jesus’ favour.”Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”, and we are told how they marvel at this, going off on their way directly after-ward.
”Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary” has this to say on the matter: ”Jesus Christ was a faithful Teacher, and a bold reprover. Christ saw their wickedness. Whatever mask the hypocrite puts on, our Lord Jesus sees through it. Christ did not interpose as a judge in matters of this nature, for his kingdom is not of this world, but he enjoins peaceable subjection to the powers that be.‘‘(2) What seems to be implied is that Jesus submitted, and that this is what led to the Pharisees marvelling. Yet the early church were anything but submissive: refusing to give offerings to the Imperial Cult, under threat of death.(3) Can this really be the true interpretation to be taken? Surely the Pharisees would not have thought to have marvelled at such a defeat?
The Pharisees ask if it is lawful , within the temple, to give tribute; and Jesus asks as to whose image and superscription is on this silver dēnarion coin. ”Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” It is with the terms used, and knowing that Jesus’ pronouncement has the Pharisees marvel, that we find Jesus, in the Jewish temple, is referring the Pharisees back to the only law, holy law; the laws which Moses brought down from the Mountain.
”You shall have no other god(s) to set against me.” (Ex.20.3)
”You shall not make gods of silver to be worshipped as well as me, nor shall you make yourselves gods of gold.” (Ex.20.23-4)
Jesus has shown the Pharisees to have asked for worship to a false idol in what was considered as the holiest place on earth. Jesus turns the very words of the Pharisees against them, having them set their own trap so to speak, and returns a charge of idolatry. What is quite magnificent is that he does so in a way that has the Pharisees unable to lay a charge against him. This was a truly great feat, a work of rhetorical cunning, and it is surely an act worthy of marvel.
Now it may be stated that in an earlier passage(Mttw.17:24-27) Jesus, the man who stated in Judah that we should worship God, not money(Mttw.6:24), did pay temple poll tax in Capernaum. And it is true: he got one of his disciples to fetch stater from the mouth of a fish. Jesus was actually held to have been exempt, an error by Peter resulting in Jesus advising him to go cast a hook in the sea, so not to ‘stumble’ the tax collectors. The crucial difference with this payment though, is that this tribute was paid to community leaders for the upkeep of the Temple, where as it is quite a different case in Jerusalem. In fact we can clearly find difference by being attentive to the language in our passage: ”for thou regardest not the person of men.”To understand what is being said we turn to a quote from the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:
”There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word ‘person’ to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for ‘persona’ really means an actor’s mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role.”
The word ”person” is derived from the Greek ”πρόσωπον”, properly ”persona”, and refers to the masks worn by actors on Ancient Roman stage. Caesar, and caesars, were,we find, taken to be antithetical to human being and divine will.
David Khan is an analytic philosopher from Scotland. He is currently working on a project which looks to do two things: (1) contrary to Reza Aslan’s premise which holds that the discourse level disconnect between Jesus of faith and Jesus the man entails understanding to be sought out with scripture, my work seeks to show that by being attentive to scripture a Jesus, and faith, with both political impetus and egalitarian principles becomes apparent. In fact it is this understanding which informs his own Christianity.(2) David wishes to show that the dualism of secular/theological is a false dichotomy, both being predicated from the same point.
1.Pope calls on global youth to rise up against global capitalism, Common Dreams(News), July 22, 2015, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/07/13/pope-calls-world-youth-rise-against-global-capitalism?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=google_plus&utm_source=socialnetwork,
Date accessed: July 22,2015, 16:29
2.The Bible Hub, Matthew 22:15 commentaries, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/22-15.htm, Date accessed: 22/07/2015, 16:59
3.BBC website, History, Christianity and the Roman empire, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/christianityromanempire_article_01.shtml, Date accessed: 22/07/2015, 17:02
King James Bible
Samir Chopra (WordPress), Schopenhauer on revealing our true feelings, http://samirchopra.com/2014/03/26/schopenhauer-on-revealing-our-true-feelings/, Date Accessed : 22/07/2015, 19:52