Faith and civil life

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, a cross, some coins to symbolise the gospel story may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme.

Opening Prayer

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.36)

Where is the justice,
in a world where fear trumps hope?
Where is the justice
in a world where poor are blamed for the excesses of the rich?
Where is the justice,
in a world where racism runs rampant?
Where is the justice,
in a world where difference is condemned?
Where is the justice,
in a world where the abused are blamed for the crimes of the abuser?
Where is the justice,
in a world where we stand by and let it happen?
Where is the justice?
Help us to bring justice to the world and to show that
your light shines in the darkest times.

Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV) The question about paying tax

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Reflecting on the Word

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss. 36)

Politics always begs the question ‘who holds truth?’ Conservative or Socialist, Liberal or Labor, Democrat or Republican? For the faithful Jew of Jesus’ day the question of politics and the practice of faith go together. Many would say this is as true in our time as it was back in the day.

Specifically for the Jewish leaders who questioned Jesus, the focus of attention was on their relationship with their Roman overlords.

For some, Torah was without question the only rule of Law. The Scribes and Pharisee had interpreted God’s law for man of the poorer rural people, allowing them to live holy, faithful lives even in they could not afford to participate in the Temple’s sacrificial practices. Jesus is being set up here, to test his allegiance to the Law or to the despised Roman overlords. The questioners are out to entrap him, waiting for him to somehow damage his credibility in the face of Jewish Law or give them reason to accuse him of rebelling against their Roman overlords. There really is no right answers Jesus can give to this question if he answers it directly.

Jesus instead shows his intelligence and mastery in being able to duck a direct answer entirely. Nonetheless, in the subtlety of his words he leaves them, and the listener, plenty to ponder and reflect on.

Though the Pharisees and Zealots rejected Roman rule/taxation, there were other Jews, the Priests and the Herodians, who were supportive of taxation under Roman oppression. This faction may have recognised the ‘good’ that could be done through a fair system of taxes that allowed for the betterment of society, or they may have just wanted to keep ‘in’ with the Romans in order to maintain their position in the power hierarchy. There is a common assumption that taxes imposed by external rulers are a bad thing but not everyone believed that. It is possible that Jesus in his answer to the conundrum posed by his questioners had a degree of sympathy with such a view, as he does not oppose such a tax.

The question of taxes is of course a relevant one for our own societies. Without tax revenue, things like infrastructure, health education and schemes like Jobseeker and Jobkeeper as a response to the pandemic would not have been possible; and it is inevitable that the economic cost of Covid-19 will need to be paid back through taxation for years to come. Taxation then is not just a question of moral integrity or religious interpretation, it is woven into the fabric of how societies work and is determinant of whether our societies work fairly or not for the common good of all.

Although the Pharisees may have a motive of entrapment at play in asking Jesus a question about taxes, we can still recognise that the theme of the exchange is a sincere one. For a people of faith, what relationship is to be encouraged with the society, and civil authorities, in which they live?

Jesus, with a delicate argument, leaves the Pharisees in no doubt about the interconnectedness of religion and civil life when he points out that the coins in their very own pockets, portray the head of the Roman Emperor himself. The two cannot be separated. People of faith are called not only to live in the world but to influence it towards becoming a world of fairness and justice.

What are the values we hang on to? What are the values that we are called, as Church, to use as we challenge the world’s unfair systems, and seek to establish the society that God desires for the world?

Reflecting on the passage

Much is made in modern politics about “gotcha” questions that are designed to show up a politician for not having an answer to a question. Often that label is used when the politician being questioned does not like the question, rather than because it is a trick question.

• When you are asked difficult questions, how do you normally respond?

• Which people are we tempted to not answer clearly, and which people do we try to keep our answers truthful?

Jesus did not answer the question asked of him directly, but rather in his reponse he avoided a direct answer with a condundrum of his own.

• If you were to design a coin to represent the kind of community you think God  seeks, what would you imprint on the coin? What values would you want it to represent?

Note that taxes are often described in negative terms, but when used well they are an essential part of how society works and help share the burden of institutions and facilities that benefit all of society (health care, roads, libraries, police and fire services, schools, armed forces, and so on). What do you think taxes should pay for?

This week, each time you hold a coin in your hand take a moment to study what is on the coin and to think about what is represented there.

• Does what is on the coin represent values you think are important?

Prayer for ourselves and others

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)

Creator God,
sustainer of all that we perceive, we join together in prayer.
We seek wisdom and guidance
that we might show your amazing love to all whom we meet.
In our communities we present ourselves as your faithful children,
ready to continue to spread your message of love and care.
We pray for the strength to do your work in our communities,
to bring the truly radical message of your holy word to all whom we meet.
Our world continues to be ravaged by disease, war, famine,
and many other natural and humanmade disasters.
This year, like so many others, has been difficult for people all over our planet.
We pray we will be able to still see the promise of your light,
that no matter the problems we face
individually or as a people, that we will know your love.
As our countries and societies strive to recover from the difficulties this year has brought,
we pray that, we along with our leaders,
will have the wisdom to pay particular attention to those who were already in most need.
We pray for all those on the margins of society, those who are demonised
for their economic wealth, skin colour, sexuality, or ability.
Grant us the boldness to tear down the walls built to divide us
and bring your righteous justice to all.
We, the church, ask for your continued protection.
We pray that we will not be confined
by the buildings that serve us, but that we will use the resources
you have given us to do what is necessary to
be truly radical as we seek to discern your calling
to spread the message of your holy word
to a world that is so in need of your love.


(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.36)

God of hope
who brought forth light from darkness;
give us all hope as you lead the world into tomorrow.
God of faith
who showed us the way through Jesus;
give us all courage as we face the world of tomorrow.
God of love,
help us, as your children, to lead the way for others
to experience your faith, hope and love
and to find themselves in your kingdom.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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