Taxes, Masks & Ribeyes Offered to Idols

Jul 10, 2020

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle Him in His words.
And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and You do not care about anyone’s opinion, for You are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put Me to the test, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin for the tax.” And they brought Him a denarius.
And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
They said, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
When they heard it, they marveled. And they left Him and went away.

— Matthew 22:15–21

As an Israeli, Jesus was radical. Most Jews hated the Roman occupiers who defeated Israel and they resented paying taxes to Caesar. Many were zealots focused on various plans, hopes and schemes of overthrowing Rome. Others were more passive, not acting on their hatred themselves but hoping the Messiah would come lead a successful revolt against Rome. So when Jesus told them to pay the Roman taxes, and even said it in a way as if the Romans had it coming, He was running contrary to everyone’s expectation.

A pragmatist might have said to pay the taxes but would have added disclaimers explaining that this is a temporary necessity until they can expel the mongrels. But Jesus didn’t say a single derogatory word against them. He included not a drop of resentment or disdain in his reply. In fact, He told the Pharisees not to conflate obedience to Rome with a lack of devotion to God. He totally destroyed the dichotic trap in which they made it seem like any capitulation to Rome was a betrayal of their faith. He was brilliant, and He was radical.
To many Christians in America, Jesus would seem just as radical today.

He would tell you to wear a mask.

And He would tell you not to confuse submission to the government’s insistence on wearing a mask with a failure to stand up for the faith.

I hate the masks. I hate the carbon dioxide. I hate the inconvenience. I hate the fog on my glasses. And truth be told, I hate being told what to do.

But a church asking its members to submit to the government and wear a mask during the service isn’t a lack of faith, it isn’t bowing down before an idol, it isn’t a willful ushering in of tyranny and the antichrist. It’s simple, basic biblical obedience to God Himself. Refusing to wear a mask, on the other hand, is disobedience to God Himself.

In his epistle to the Christians in Rome, Paul was clear.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. — Romans 12:1–7

There was nothing ambiguous about that command. If you give a cup of water to someone in the name of Christ, Jesus said you have given it to Jesus Himself. And if you disobey the governing authorities, you are disobeying God Himself.

If you want to start a fight on social media, all you have to do is express your opinion on masks. Favor them? You’ll quickly be branded as a faithless, gullible sheep. Opposed to them? You’ll be accused of being an uneducated fool who is reckless with other people’s lives. It’s amazing how little civilized discussion there is about masks because everyone has dug their foxholes, loaded their weapons and defined the enemy.

Here are some legitimate questions we could be discussing.

• Do masks really make a difference? If so, which kind? If not, why not?
• Do masks cause some health problems themselves? If so, which kind, to whom, in which circumstances?
• Are there alternatives to masks that could be as effective? If so, what are they?

Immediately, half the people reading this are eager to answer. Some have strong opinions and may have studies, doctors and other sources to back them up. Unfortunately, so do the others, and their sources sound just as authoritative as the first group’s — and yet, mysteriously, these sources disagree with the others. Why can’t all the experts just agree?

It’s not the differences of opinion that are the problem. It’s the accusations, the judgments, the harsh views we take of each other.

Jesus, James and Paul all spoke strongly against such judgments. For example:

Paul: But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. — Romans 14:10

James: Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? — James 4:11-12

In Paul’s day, they were arguing over meat offered to idols. Is it a sin for a Christian to eat such meat? Does he have to ask traders in the marketplace if the meat they’re selling was part of an idol ritual? What if he’s a dinner guest and finds out his ribeye was offered to an idol? Paul took his time in explaining that the Christian could eat it without guilt, but Paul emphasized the need for tolerance of those whose understanding wasn’t up to speed and who therefore felt guilty about it. The principle he instilled was that we need to live up to our own convictions on uncertain things but not condemn those who disagree with us. Value the person over the issue.

Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. — Romans 14:3,13

If you don’t want to wear a mask, that’s fine. Stay home and participate in the service online until we get the green light to meet without masks. If you wear a mask every time you leave the house, that’s fine. But don’t judge those who don’t.

As I said, I hate the masks. But love compels me to care more about the people around me than I do about my own feelings about masks. I could write a list of all the reasons why wearing a mask in public is the godly thing to do right now, but quite frankly I can’t bring myself to do so. I thought the posters that the church’s Communications Team put together before masks were even required was great. But if you want to read an EXCELLENT blog on masks, here’s one I could never top.

In the meanwhile, if you disagree with me and want to talk about it, I’d be happy to spend an hour discussing it over a ribeye—if you’re buying, of course.

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