Luke 20: 19 – 47.
The Gospels are intriguing as one attempts to comprehend the inescapable tensions in the interactions between Jesus and the men and women trapped within their earthly frame of reference. At times, they appeared to be talking at cross purposes, where the dilemma involved two very different kingdoms; His kingdom being not of this world (John 18:36). This inevitable phenomenon continues to impact our spirituality, as the sheer reality of our material world holds us firmly captive! Repeatedly, the aggressive interrogation by the Jewish religious leaders aided the erstwhile onlooker on clarifying the differences in the two intertwining realms by pressing our Lord to open His ‘Pandora’s box,’ and in so doing, interjecting His rather ‘out-of-this-world’ replies. It made absolute sense that He was often gravely misunderstood or doubted even by His closest followers, as He addressed a new transcendent perspective to their Jewish religiosity. When His kingdom is entirely unlike this world, how do we relate to it, given our earth-bound proclivities?
Through nit-picking grilling, from tribute-giving to Caesar to the Levirate remarriage of deceased brothers, Jesus’ position elucidated astounding implications for those who were listening in. Which was more critical: giving back to Caesar what belonged to him or bowing the knee to God our Creator (but not to Caesar), in total submission and obedience (Luke 20:25). And, the temporal juxtaposed with the permanent order, where the sacred matrimonial charge was promulgated for the procreative mandate in this world but would no longer be extant in His kingdom (Luke 20:34-36). Abraham and the writer to the Hebrews drew an apt parallel, ‘for here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking a city which is to come, … a city which has eternal foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (Heb 11:10; Heb 13:14; c.f., Rev 21:1-2). Although we are a chosen people and a holy nation, we remain aliens and strangers in this world, nevertheless, we are exhorted to be fully engaged in seeking and praying for its welfare as its salt and light (1 Peter 2:9-11; Matt 5:13-16; c.f., Jer 29:7). This living dichotomy can sorely test the dynamics of our dual citizenships (Phil 3:20-21), as we navigate the reality of our spiritual and social-cum-political spheres. Paul’s unconventional timely use of his Roman citizenship during crisis situations is exemplary for us, as he resisted the use of his worldly rights unwisely (Acts 16 – Acts 28). Rising above the political milieu of our day and not being blind-sided by our preferences requires divine wisdom in the decisions and choices we make.
How do we live in these two worlds without being caught between them? Although it may not seem like it yet, God rules over all the affairs of men (Matt 28:18); where every individual will be held accountable, irrespective of their societal and political responsibilities. This is illustrated in God’s punishment of the Babylonians (as listed in Isaiah) and the Assyrians (in Nahum) for their cruelties to their subject people, despite God’s hand in using them to judge Israel, Judah, and the nations. Although Christ’s paramount command was for us to make disciples wherever we go, and teaching others to obey all that He commanded (Matt 28:19-20), He also instructed us to be obedient to the civil powers that be, and to faithfully pray for those who rule over us, that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Tim 2:1-2). Despite the fact that no earthly institution had escaped the Fall, and there is no perfect governing authority, our earthly citizenship cannot be held inconsequentially nor peripherally, as our attitude and relationship to them do impact us favourably or adversely as exemplary citizens. Nevertheless, whatever level of engagement we may choose, our decisive focus as heavenly citizens ought to alert us to our ambassadorial role in Christ as long as we tarry in this world (2 Cor 5:20). It remains pertinent to bear in mind that God’s kingdom is distinctly governed through the power of the Holy Spirit and the rule of grace (John 16:12-15).