Church and State (v. 17)
Jesus was (and is) a master of catching deceitful people in their own traps (Galatians 6:7). But this answer does much more than reveal Jesus’ clever use of rhetoric. It is a foundational statement regarding the role of the sacred and civil (see also Romans 13:-17; I Timothy 2:1-6; Titus 3:1-2; and 2 Peter 2:13-17).
Civil authority plays (or at least should play) a role of common grace in society. Government should punish those who violate others and create a setting where those who honor others have opportunity to succeed.
Caesar was doing this quite imperfectly. The Jews longed for a political/military Messiah to undo this oppression. However, even in this context, Jesus responds, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Reflection One: How does government (marked by the fall and human greed/error) still serve as a conduit of God’s common grace? Do you regularly thank God for the structures of society that allow for relative order, peace, predictability, and planning?
Reflection Two: We tend to closely align our lives to government expectations (i.e., laws, taxes, holidays, etc…). This is “giving Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Do you also manage your life equally in keeping with God’s expectations (i.e., values regarding morals, relationships, money, rest, etc…)? This contrast can also be understood in terms of the “Fear/Trust of Man” versus the “Fear/Trust of the Lord.” See Jeremiah 17:5-10 for more on this contrast.
Two Commands or Three?
A big question in our day is whether you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, or whether we all naturally do what we believe will make us happy and should treat others the same way. As you look at Mark 12:29-31 (and the corresponding Matthew 22:37-40), consider the following question – How many commands does Jesus say there are? Two
But what do we do to make of “as yourself”? If we flip the commands to mean we have to love self before we can love neighbor (command three before two), we would also have to say we must love neighbor before we can love God (command two before our added third command). This does not seem right.
We begin with a recognition that we can only love (at all; anyone) because God first loved us (I John 4:19). Love is naturally focused outside itself (Philippians 2:1-11) and we are naturally self-centered. You have to teach a child to say “please” and “thank you” not “no” and “mine.”
Then we look at another use of a similar phrase in Ephesians 5:28, “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” It is not very romantic to love your wife after loving yourself. That hardly seems in keeping with the sacrificial tone of Ephesians 5.
Finally, we look at a passage like 2 Timothy 3:2 where Paul says that the first mark of people in the last days will be that they “will be lovers of themselves.” As the first item on the list this defines all the other items in the same way that love marks all of the fruit of the Spirit.
From this we can conclude, Jesus assumes we naturally do what we think will make us happy. The problem then is that we are more likely foolish or deceived rather than lacking self-love. Our actions may in fact be to our detriment. This may emerge from what we believe about ourselves, others, and God. The solution, however, is to seek wisdom and clarity so that our actions (which we believe to be in our best interest) will actually bless us. Without this wisdom and clarity our ability to love God and neighbor will be severely hampered.
A Sincere Man in Hostile Times (v. 34)
Jesus’ words here are quite remarkable. The content of His words were simple enough. He could tell from a brief conversation with this questioner that he was “not far from the kingdom of God.” It is not the content but the context that is amazing.
Jesus was in the midst of being assaulted by a series of verbal traps. The Pharisees tried (v. 13-17). Then the Sadducees tried (v. 18-27). In the same dialogue this teacher walks up and asks “another” question. However, Jesus responded to the question and the questioner independent from the context.
Reflection Questions: When have you recently lumped one question/circumstance in with its neighboring questions/circumstances? When are you most prone to do this? With whom are you most prone to do this? Pray that you will be more Christ-like in your ability to treat each moment, circumstance, and person on its own merit.
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.