Setting Our Priorities

Oct 22 2017


From the time we are born until the time we die, we choose our priorities and we pay the price for those choices. There are always consequences – some good, some bad.   A portion of those priorities is choosing to whom we belong. As children, the choice is easy – we belong to our parents. When we entered elementary school, we belonged to a particular classroom, a particular teacher, and a select group of friends. As we matured into pre-teens, belonging to a special peer group became important, as well as belonging to a particular school. As teenagers in high school, our friends became all-important as we struggled with the challenges of maturing into adults.

After graduation from high school, some went on to school, some went to jobs, and some got married. Those who married may view the relationship as belonging to a particular person or family. We also chose sports teams to root for, activities that interested us, and began our own families, only to watch the cycle begin over again.

The test for Jesus this morning was really a question of choosing to whom he would pay allegiance. If he said, “don’t pay the tax,” the Herodians who vociferously supported Rome would have been upset. Had he said, “pay the tax,” the Pharisees, who did not even want to touch the coin of the realm, would have been upset. Instead of allowing Himself to be drawn into their trap, he stated quite simply, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what belongs to God.”

Seems simple, doesn’t it. Give to the government what is theirs and to God what is God’s. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. More and more we have a blending of faith and politics in this country that was never envisioned by the founding fathers of this country.

Anyone who listens to the news knows about the interplay of religion and politics that we are facing in this country today. In fact, it goes way beyond just religion and politics. It enters the arena of morality and ethics. It enters the arena of human relationships that ought to be positive and are turning more and more negative everyday. We certainly know how the people in Puerto Rico are being treated, but it doesn’t stop there. It continues to Gold Star families, poor families who need insurance, the LGBTQ community, and a lack of vision and clarity regarding international politics. All of this is overlayed with a lack of moral concern for people meshed with some in the government who insist on a fundamentalistically religious approach to human rights that goes like this – we’re right and the rest of you are wrong! Or worse, I’m right and the rest of the world is wrong!

The question that Jesus was asked to resolve was simply this: do we owe an allegiance to the government or do we owe an allegiance to God? His answer was brilliant – Give to Caesar what is Caeser’s and to God what belongs to God! He doesn’t tell them to mesh the two until they are indistinguishable.  He tells them to give each one its due.

But in the process of giving each one its due, how do we set our priorities? First, attempting to solve the world’s problems by a literal translation of the Bible will never work just as much as a literal translation of the Koran or any other religious document will solve the world’s problems. In fact, those approaches lead only to more fear, guilt and mistreatment of human beings, not to mention choosing selected passages to support a particular opinion.

Those who are fundamental religious believers do not really follow what their particular document espouses; if they did, they would have to face the overlaying truth that the document contains. They follow what they are told, isolated passages that they read, and anything else that will make them feel righteous and declare that the rest of the world is wrong.

Second, for those who have a Christian framework from their upbringing, the real issue ought to be not that Jesus died, but how he lived and why that should be a model for all of us.

Third, anytime someone in public office overtly uses religious reasons for political outcomes, s/he ought to be run out of office. Using empathy, a moral compass, compassion for others, the pursuit of justice, and setting rules and laws in place to help others rather than to hinder them is the job of politicians and legislators. It is not their job to put policies and laws into place that punish people for the circumstances in which they find themselves as victims of crime, poverty, and disasters, especially if the victims are trying to help themselves and cannot.

It is true that we must all realize that we are asked to make decisions in all of our lives on a daily basis. We make some of those decisions based on what we have done in the past. We make some of those decisions based on the current priorities in our lives. We make some of those decisions based on what we think would be in keeping with God’s will and way for us. We make very few of those decisions based on what we think God is telling us to do based on whether our relationship with God is the foremost priority in our lives. We would rather fear our fellow human beings and what they might do than trust in God and God’s presence and help.

In that, Jesus was different from us. His relationship with God was of foremost importance to him. He spoke with God continually. He loved God. The most important thing to him was God.

We are not Jesus. We live in a world where we think that in order to be accepted into our circles, our groups, our cliques, we must act or talk or dress in a certain way. We may fear that if we do not, we will be left alone, hanging on the ends of our threads with no one to help us. But therein lies the difference between Jesus and us. He always knew that God was with him. We fear that God may be too important to bother with us. We fear that if we make decisions that might alienate us from our families and friends, we will have no one to support us or to help us.

Jesus says to us as simply today as he did to the Herodians and the Pharisees so many years ago – give to those other people, give to your families and friends what is due to them. But don’t forget to give to me what is due to me.

We are not bound by the Hebrew laws to give all of our firstborn cattle to God. We are bound by a much more powerful relationship; we are bound to God through our hearts and our faith. We are in covenant with God for our earthly lives and beyond. We call ourselves Christians. We are children of a loving God. 

That we have free will is indisputable. But within the framework of free will we are free to choose our priorities. For the Christian, the priority is following Christ. Hopefully, we will all realize whose we are and act accordingly. Amen.