Once again I tentatively approach this issue of eTolls. What should the Christian response to this be? In my previous post on this issue I made slight allusions to a response, but my heart was more focused on ‘why this issue’ is the one that makes everyone irate.
Let me be clear from the outset that I am against the eTolling. I understand that it is corrupt. I am saddened by the economic consequences that it will incur. And when these economic consequences begin to take their toll (excuse the pun) the church needs to be there to minister to the province of Gauteng, and thus invariably the rest of South Africa.
The issue of government comes up in Scripture, that is a good place to start. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… this is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-2; 6).
Not only that but the words of Christ in Mark 12:13-17 ring in our ears, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This was Christ’s answer to the question about an insulting head tax that people conquered by Rome had to pay the government. He was asked, “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” Jesus answered and said, ‘Give Caesar the money, because it’s his money, he printed it, but don’t give him total allegiance.’ He is not only saying give Caesar the money but not ultimate allegiance, but he is being even more ambivalent about Caesar, because he changes the verb that was used in the original question. In the original question they say, “should we give Caesar taxes” and they use a Greek word that means ‘a gift’ it means to present something. But Jesus uses a word that the NIV doesn’t really give us a good example of, it’s actually hard to get in English, Jesus changes the word and says, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesars”, and to God, the things that are God’s”. It’s a word that literally means ‘pay back what he deserves”. Can you see how ambiguous that is? What does a tyrant deserve? Perhaps he deserves his money back, but doesn’t he deserve some resistance as well? What Jesus Christ is saying is, “you may give Caesar some of what he wants, which is his money, but you cannot give Caesar ultimately what he wants, which is to completely accept his system” his system of coercion, his system of injustice, his system of exclusion. He wants ultimate allegiance, he wants no one to sit in judgement of him, and we can’t give him that.
There were two major views Jesus was disagreeing with at the time, the Essense and the Zealots. The Essenes pretty much dropped out of the system. They left to live in the desert (modern day Australia 😉 ) thus they avoided paying taxes at all. The Zealots on the other hand promoted open revolt against the government. Both groups didn’t pay tax, and Jesus is not siding with either of these groups. Jesus is promoting a totally different way.
In a narrow sense Jesus is not political, but in a broad sense He is incredible political. Jesus didn’t have a specific political party/system, but He did come proclaiming a Kingdom. the Kingdom of God to deal with real poverty, real suffering and injustice and hunger and brokenness.
In Luke 6 Jesus said, ““Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate and exclude you,
leap for joy, for great is your reward in heaven. But woe to you who are rich, you will be poor, woe to you who are well fed, you will be hungry. Woe to you who gloat of your success, you shall weep. Woe when all men speak well of you, for that is how they treated the false prophets.”
Now if you noticed Jesus actually takes four values and repeats them in both parts of that. Those four values are the dividing line between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. And those four values are power, success, comfort and recognition.
But if we are in Christ’s kingdom, then we shouldn’t care about recognition, success and comfort and power. In fact we should be giving them away and spending our time with the marginal and loving the poor and I healing the sick and feeding the hungry.
I would encourage you brothers and sisters, not to lose sight of the Kingdom of God as it grows here in South Africa. As we ‘render to Caesar’ let us be wise. If the law of the land says we have to pay, then we submit. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot find other legal ways to fight against this injustice, in fact it is incumbent on us to do just that. So long as it’s not power, success, comfort and recognition that is motivating us.