Thursday, June 28, 2012

'EAST OF EDEN' And BIBLE STORY.... June 28, 2012

One commentator summarizes , 'Adam, father of two sons,  perceives Aron as ambitious and promising but dismisses Cal as shiftless and directionless. Steinbeck patterns these father-son relationships in the Trask family on an example in the Bible—the relationships that the brothers Cain and Abel have with God, who represents a father figure to both of them. When Cain and Abel both offer sacrifices to God (mirrored in Steinbeck’s novel by Charles’s and Adam’s birthday gifts to Cyrus), God favors Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. Conspicuously, neither God nor the narrator of the story in the Bible offers any reason or justification for God’s preference. In East of Eden, Adam mentions that, upon reading the story of Cain and Abel, he felt “a little outraged at God” for favoring Abel so arbitrarily. However, as we see, Adam favors Aron over Cal just as arbitrarily as God favors Abel over Cain. Adam does not realize the depth of his favoritism until he is on his deathbed, when he acknowledges the mistake he has made and grants his final blessing to Cal. '
Cain's Offering Rejected

I think Steinbeck is raising the same question that  C.G. Jung helps people to face. That is that there is a dark and very imperfect side of the the Old Testament God Yahweh. Any parent who will not accept the natural gifts that come from his child is very dubious and not to be fully trusted or adored. And such a parent drives a child to experience much suffering as in the case of Cal. In the New Testament, Jesus  as an incarnation of God, has the nature of accepting all the gifts that people bring  sincerely out of their natural lives and capacities and a love that never gives up on them.. But the problem does not disappear with the gospel's Jesus image of God. For the Bible ends with the The Revelation of John where the Christ figure is anything but accepting and loving. In fact there the Christ figure is making angry threats, similar to Job's God who immorally raged at Job like one who seriously questions his own authority and omniscience. The Christ figure in Revelation  angrily threatens  the various churches for not meeting up to the standards of the law and of Gods expectation. This is in sharp contrast to the Jesus of love and empowerment  in the N.T.,  and the God who has broken down the Wall of the Law and 'reconciled the whole world to himself' in Paul's teaching and  'in whom there is no darkness' according to the author of I John. 
Hell Depiction In The Book Of Revelation

This is why Jung emphasizes that the drama of the the relationship and redemption between God and Humanity is still unfolding, and it is not just about the sin of humans(why can't they get it right) but also about the imperfect love that has been clearly displayed in God from the very earliest Genesis stories to the wrathful image of Christ at the end of the Bible. This is why it is so important that the Theology of our day needs to take into account that 'God is still Speaking' and the story is not yet at all over and done.. We should not forget that it was Jesus who promised that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide humanity into more and more truth.  Formal religion, both Catholic and Protestant, represses this promise of Jesus because it places the final religious authority in the hands of the unseen  but active Spirit rather than formal church doctrine as with Catholics or of a  physical book, the Bible with the Protestants. This  is where we still are  religiously and spiritually according to the overall  Bible Story. 'East of Eden' was the 'dark and unknown mysterious place' where  Cain found a wife so the very title of the story leads us to the awareness that the story of God is not fully arrived at  'perfect love and light ' but  the goal of a long path involving  much suffering in Both God and the Human. The characters is this novel and movie are experiencing this suffering in many of the same general ways  we all do. A fresh look at East Of Eden reminds me that  this classic movie of our American culture has the capacity to lead us to reflect on the less than simple Biblical religious stories that have shaped our lives.

Cal In Touch With His Care Of The Feminine In Outer Life

Also, in East of Eden, the 'feminine' principle, is represented in its shadow by  Cal's mother who is a dark and earthy figure and perhaps even a prostitute. ( This might make us recall that rumor has it in the historic church that Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute, and one of the most erotic scenes is where a strange woman bathes Jesus' feet, with perfume or tears, and dries them with her hair. This says something of the meaning of the feminine in Jesus' inner life.) Genesis not only makes God all male and more approving of Adam than Eve, but casts Eve into the role of cooperating with Satan and being the human primary cause of sin in the world. This set up a very strong foundation for the ancient patriarchy in  Hebrew and Christian religions as well as the sexism so prevalent in Western civilization. Adam is cast in a much more favorable light in Genesis than Eve just as the father and older son are in East of Eden.

Cal Discovering His Dark Unknown Mother
Cal is shown trying to uncover the missing part of God, the female, whom his father has managed to denigrate and keep out of sight and out of his life. But Cal nevertheless has a painful need and desire to reunite with the' mother' as well as the 'father.'The Biblical story, as  powerful myth generated by the Collective Unconscious, is always pushing toward completion and reconciliation of the God- Human relationship and showing what a long and painful process it is for both God and Human.
The Questionable Feminine as Eve And Female Serpent- Notre Dame

Steinbeck, genius that he is, is aware of these themes, certainly unconsciously in tune with them if not consciously, and incorporates them into his story. And because his story so well catches the meaning of the living archetypes, the story and movie caught the strong attention of mid 20th century Bible influenced Americans. The Collective Unconscious draws and affects us this way long before we are conscious of it or able to articulate what the archetypal influences are actually are saying to us, whether in reading the Bible or absorbed in a creative and inspired story like East of Eden. It connects with us because the archetypes are already the common human inner foundations of us all. 
Cal's Uncertainty Of His Acceptance By His 'Father.'

 The story simply begins to make us conscious of our own inner reality. This kind of interpretive process indicates how very important it is for us to see that the Bible material is archetypal and mythological rather than primarily historical or literal. The real message of religion is always and must of necessity be the language of symbol, not direct human words or literal history. Both the novel East of Eden and the movie affect us at the symbolic level of communication. The Bible does this also once we allow it to have its natural voice and refuse to impose onto it a literal historical head-strong Western understanding. Once we do that it becomes a matter of the head, going right over and missing the heart. We are drawn to East of Eden by its symbolic message which has the same archetypal author as the equivalent Biblical stories. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


Many say of reading Carl Jung, 'He's strange and not understandable.' This is primarily because he's breaking down our common religious themes and stories to create a deeper understanding of their meaning. He was a world renowned psychiatrist but, from youth, he was driven to understand the contradictory and frightening symbols of the Christian religion. Ones that we sometimes rather thoughtlessly parade across our churches. He had a strong Bible knowledge. He calls to our attention the 'elephants in our religious rooms' that most are more comfortable ignoring.  And what is more important he shows what the value and necessity of those elephants are.  He might say we must not leave out or get rid of anything because we can't. And his focus can be of great  spiritual/psychological value in our day. It is our day that  he is writing about  even more than his own. So I offer these brief pages for my blog readers  to take a peek from his 'Answer To Job', one of his last and most profound works.  Note: Three Latin expression he uses here  in italics translated are: 'sacrifice of intelligence', 'affliction of the soul' and 'image of God.'

Saturday, June 23, 2012

RECALLING OUR TRANSFORMATIONS: Sermon for Senior Day Chambersburg, IL June 19, 2012

Related Texts:
Rom 12:2, II Cor 3:18....Transforming  and Changing
Deut 32:7, Judges 9:2, Numbers 11:5.... Remembering

Lam 3:22-23    Thanks for inviting me and thanks for each one who is here today to consider the topic, Not  Home Yet.

You can't bring a 68 year old semi retired man 200 yards from his first real adult job and expect him to not reminisce. I was 23 years old. Just consider all the life that you have experienced since you were 23. The eating, resting, awaking, hugging, crying, kissing, eating, plowing, harvesting, cooking, playing … all the people...friends,  marrying, children, grand children. Could I have ever had the mind to look across at this church and think to myself, 'One day as a senior citizen I'm going to be talking to a group of my peers in that very church?'

Chambersburg-Meredosia  Jr. High..My First Teaching Job
Story: Missionary Rev jack was captured by a clan of vicious man-eating baboons. The head baboon stood right in front of him and the clan in a circle surrounding him. He said under his breath,” O Lord, I'm done for.” Suddenly a voice came to him clearly that said, 'Rev Jack, When the head baboon glances over to the side pick up that rock by your left foot. Hit the leader in the head.' He did that, disabled the leader and was feeling pretty good. He saw the other baboons all take a step toward him and again the voice spoke clearly. “Rev Jack , Now you are done for.”... So we are not 'done for' in this amazing experience of life until we are 'really done for.' Until then we have important stuff to be doing and learning. We are Not Yet Home and this part of our lives is ever  much as important as any younger years in our preparations for whatever is on the other side . I suggest that each day and hour you walk down from the top of life's hill is just as important for the purpose of your life as when you were 23 or 33.

There are some life skills that you can only get good at as you get to this part of life. Stuff that a 23 year old could not begin to do well. I want to read a few scriptures of describing two of them and  by reminiscing give you some personal examples of how I try to apply these skills. I think it will remind you that you too use these skills. And perhaps we can all improve our skill at doing these two amazing  spiritual activities  which are so important as we get nearer home and 'done for.'

  1. To remember or to recall. All those moments of time you have experienced. Many of them are still right there in your mind and heart. Millions of them. Way more than when you were 23. A scripture about remembering: It may seem I'm taking this out of context but I'm only taking it deeper into context. Numbers 11:5-6 The Hebrews were not at fault for remembering but  needed to improve their remembering skills and not use their memory to complain, but as a deep abiding source of thanksgiving, as a strong tool for surviving difficult times. They needed to remember with their full range of senses. Eg eating water 'melon.' The smell, the feel of its coolness and texture, the sound of the crunch when you bite into it. the sweet taste as you chew it. The feel of the juice streaming down your chin. That is what real remembering involves. When you do that the effect on all your body's systems is very near the same thing as being there. Such remembering strengthens the mind and body. It is powerful. We know there can be difficult days ahead as we get closer to home. Memory can be a primary resource for keeping a lighter and thankful heart.
  2. To observe how you have been transformed. Rom 12:2. The Bible teaches the purpose of religion in life is to transform the human being and we can't get fully transformed till we get nearer being home, being 'done for.' The goal of this whole life experience is to be changed in significant ways, to ripen, to be well 'done for' , to be transformed. II Cor 3:18.

Recalling and Observing our own transformations go hand in hand. Identifying our times of transformation assures us we are on the right track. We are a part of the goal that God has in mind for all human beings.

Chambersburg Christian Church
Do you think that 23 year old boy really knew what he was doing? I'm not sure we ever get close to knowing what we are doing and how we are affecting ourselves , others, the earth and the animals about us. But we sure don't at 23, even more if you are an AL kid who talks funny and is totally our of your element. That first year I was around some really good teachers. I remember Mrs Blake and Mrs Karnes. I  also remember our custodian Doc. I didn't know then that the person who knows more about the school and what goes on is the custodian. He would bring beautiful fresh tomatoes from his garden in the first weeks of school in the fall. My first yellow tomatoes were form Doc garden. Oh and those school lunches. MMMM that Mac and Cheese with dark crisp cheese on the top. My cardiologist would tell me now to run away as fast as possible. But it was so delicious. I may never eat such a dish again but I'm likely to remember it many times and be grateful.

1. Roland Ransom.....I put at the bottom of his paper, “ I can't grade what I can't read.” He gave it back somberly asking, “ Mr Hibbett , what does this say at the bottom of my paper?” Kids can teach us as much as we teach them.. Not as often about the subject matter but they teach a teacher how they learn and what opens them to important transformations. And in this remembered incident I think I was taught a little bit about the meaning of 'don't just focus on the gnat in another's eye without taking notice of the log that is in your own eye.' That was a transformation that became a part of my concept of teaching.

2. The big boy I paddled for no good reason and how bad I felt as I left school that day. He had tears well up and I don't think they were from the physical pain as much as tears that asked me, ' Mr Hibbett, why did you have to turn against me like this even if I wasn't behaving just right.?” I finally began to asked myself, “How can we teach non violence to our kids by hitting them?” That was a transformation.

3.Think of the most relaxing secure place calm place you experienced as a child. Mine was Lying on the boat dock in the summer sun. One of my most important memories. I've used it to calm myself down a million times. Use it every time I take my blood pressure.  Memories are powerful. We can have a goal that when we get immobile we be able to close our eyes and have a the absolute most perfect entertainment in the world... by remembering. Why we will be laughing and they will think we are crazy but we'll be literally having the times of our lives. By remembering.
church of Christ ...meets here. Meredosia, IL  

I     I ask , if needed,  the kind forbearance of my Church of Christ  brethren here. Please know I am not implying that any of you need to make the same transformation that I describe here. No one can tell another what their transformations must be. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and we are each unique in the changes of perception we will have. I was not only the boy teacher but I was also the boy preacher at the Church of Christ in Meredosia. You know the Christian Church and the non instrumental Church of Christ  are first cousins on the family tree of Christian denominations. All you would notice different is that in the Church of Christ there is no piano or organ. We sang only A Capella . It can be quite moving and beautiful with its four part harmony of human voices. But the downside is that it has been historically emphasized that anyone who used instrumental music was doing  something spiritually wrong.  I consider it a very special kind of music and potentially  a  gift of worship experience that the Church of Christ has historically developed and can now offer as as a gift to the larger Christian Community. Here is an example of Church of Christ style of worship singing.

Congregational A' Capella Singing
     People in the church of Christ take this teaching seriously to varying degrees. Some reason that it can't be that important  so for unity's sake go along with it. Most members come to genuinely prefer this style of worship music.  And  the preacher is expected to take a stand on it. And that 23 year old preacher took it very seriously and had a whole list of scripture arguments to prove his positions. There were some very strong friendships between our two churches that built up through the decades long before I showed up. I'm remembering: I attended an evangelistic meeting at this very church. We came over here at your invitation and you had a whole family of preachers and they all played different instruments. I was overwhelmed with the amount of ' wrong'  going on. And when the singing started I was not free within myself to sing so I sat like a toad on a log through the hymns. But after that experience as I walked back to my car to go home I thought, “Jim, what is going on here? Why were you not free to enthusiastically join these people in their kind of sincere music worship? Didn't Jesus say he sets you free, even free indeed?” And didn't he accept the hospitality  and the gifts of all who offered it? ... Transformation on this had begun. I did not go back and preach that our Church of Christ should purchase a piano and I still wouldn't. If that is meant to change it will change in time within the Church of Christ.  I was personally  learning it is fine for a any of us to have our religious preferences but we risk getting off track when we value our religious style and doctrine as if it is the 'one and only way' God receives people or that people praise God. This is, I think, a rather common fundamental transformation that hopefully we all experience in our own way. I bet you each have had similar kinds of transformation. I've been pastor for churches the past 25 years who love their instrumental music And I gladly join in. But only a non-instrumental Church of Christ  person can understand there will always be something about A' Capella music that touches my deepest emotions. I listened to that sound while my head was on my mother's lap at Poplar St. Church of Christ in Florence, AL.  We lose nothing  by claiming our own unique  preferences while also understanding that the other person has his cherished worship experiences also. We can then benefit, learn from and even enjoy each other.

     Memory and Transformation. So as you get nearer and nearer home which we are all doing -be generous with yourself. Remember and Recall your Transformations.

I'll close with the words of a song that was written by a well know gospel singer Iris DeMent .  Though Iris sings primarily all the old time Christian Hymns she apparently wanted to also make it clear: that though many religions speak of spiritual certainties the most healthy religions are ones that also teach us that what is most important remains very much a mystery. Two realities that we never become experts at nor can ever expect to fully comprehend are the full nature of Love or the exact meaning of God. As much as the Bible speaks and gives impressions of Love and God, I think it leaves any final descriptions as a mystery, a divine mystery. So Iris says she thinks she'll 'Let the mystery be.” I believe this song speaks of a Transformation that many experience as they come to being 'Not Home Yet.'(too bad I can't play the guitar and sing it for you.)

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory and I don't like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love and I live life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nuns On A Bus...June 22, 2012

The 'Nuns On A Bus' and what they are standing up for has made me far more appreciative of the Catholic Church than I have been for a long time. Its all male leadership failure has nearly ruined the reputation and integrity of the church in the recent decades. Then out of nowhere come these courageous , smart, defiant, looking-out-for- the common person Nuns. They are, at great personal risk, doing more to lift the image of the Catholic Church than anything has for decades. And, like it or not, the protestant church does not fare well should the Catholic Church lose all vitality and spiritual leadership in the world. It is all of a piece, both the Catholic 'Sacrament' emphasis and the Protestant 'challenge to authority and reality testing'. Both are essential for a balanced and living presence of the meaning of Christ. These Nuns have brought new life and hope to the meaning of the Christ Story for anyone who longs for the church to stay a relevant and effective influence in the world. Here is a concrete real world example of 'What would Jesus Do?'

Sunday, June 17, 2012

THE THREAT OF OUR 'RIGHT' RELIGIONS AND POLITICAL ISMS ..november 5, 2009, edited June 17, 2012

Religious Wars In France Sixteenth Century
Emotions stirred by the Ft. Hood murders, the relentless Middle East conflict,  many religious Americans falsely and  negatively identifying President Obama with Islam, and the extremes of major political parties claiming a 'religious like' superiority over the other; all point to extreme dangers inherent in the interrelated  worlds of  religion and politics.  The dominant thing that prevents large segments of  these faiths and political isms  finding sincere human respect and appreciation for each other is that ancient 'revelations of the sacred' also became associated, by their followers, with this claim: 'My religion is the 'one and only' true religion.' This religious dynamic, which in our day also shows itself as egocentric national or political pride, has driven many of the most serious wars in human history and in our globalized age threatens human survival. Carl Jung pointed out a century ago that in the modern day what before were only religious 'one and only' ideologies, now show themselves as conflicting political  ideologies. America seems caught up now is such dangerous political extremes. Encouragingly many individuals in these faiths, and parallel political ideologies,  have found ways beyond such  ancient tribal type claims and thus are able to  receive and appreciate each other. But where to a larger extent  that 'one and only ' belief has not been attended to, faced down by each religion and political party; genuine appreciation  and civility remains an impossible abyss to maneuver.

The resulting 'looking down on' , demonizing and sometimes despising each others  faith or political position is likely today the single most serious threat to humanity's survival. The major world faiths are very real, genuine and are anchored in the same ultimate source of all that is, that which all call God. But along with this legitimacy has come the unfounded destructive claim that each is the 'one and only' true religion. This 'trick of religious origins' played on us, and also in its modern form of political isms and parties,  must be transcended within each opposing group  if that faith or political group  is to help solve present human conflicts rather than continuing to be a primary cause of it.
This points to the present singular need of each religious faith and political ideology  to experience a leap in the collective self consciousness of its own very real 'shadow side.' Achieving such spiritual consciousness requires great individual and community courage which I pray  each faith has the potential of providing its followers. Legitimate religions, more than modern political parties, contain the imagery, symbol and story within them  for such transcendence.  So it is more likely that healthy religious influence can help transform dangerous  political egotism than the other way around.

 I see how the Christian story has within it  what is needed to transcend this 'only right one ' shadow.  No doubt the other Religious Faiths  have that potential  as well. As the largest and most  politically powerful Western religion, Christianity has a major role to play  if religions and  political ideologies are  to reduce their threat to Humanity. The question remains if the religions can manage this heroic spiritual feat  and transition in time? Jim

Friday, June 8, 2012

Render To Caesar: A most sadly misunderstood text. June 6, 2012

Jesus did not teach the peasant oppressed Jewish people that they should pay Roman tax no matter how abusive and inhumane the Romans were treating them. In fact it was this very issue, of Jesus himself refusing to pay 'tribute' and honor to Caesar instead of God, that resulted in Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. When Jesus finally entered Jerusalem, a place he had avoided until the last days of his life, he was  making his full protest statement against the powers that were crushing the humanity of the common people of Israel. Jesus' protest was against both the Roman government and the Jerusalem religious elite who had colluded in a tax system that robbed the common people, leaving them in poverty. It was this final embodied statement that showed Jesus to be an insurrection threat to the Roman government and to the Jerusalem religious hierarchy.
Roman Coin With Emperor's Inscription

But someone at this point will say, “Didn't Jesus say to give to Caesar what was Caesar's and to God what is God's ?” And does that not mean that we should always obey the civil rule over us no mater how it is crushing the ordinary person? Jesus did say these very words as recorded in Mark 12:13-17 but they have been misunderstood and thus misapplied for insisting that Christians are to submit to dictatorial and immoral civil authorities over themselves or other people.

These famous words are from the author of Mark as he creates his Gospel story. The story of the 'Roman Coin' comes when Mark has Jesus fully arrived in the heart of Jerusalem and the tension is now high between him and his colluding Roman and  ruling  Jewish  adversaries. They are seeing clearly that Jesus is not this 'non threat' who always teaches his followers to obey their overbearing treacherous civil and religious law. Yet they knew they had to make him appear, to his peasant followers, to be as much a trouble maker and reprobate as they believed he was. They knew if his many followers saw him as one standing up for  them against the power brokers they would indeed start an all out civil/religious/political  rebellion. So Mark pictures these authorities time and again showing up and trying to entrap Jesus, usually by asking loaded questions.

Here is where the gospels show Jesus as the master teacher and also what were the issues of his heart which drove his words, actions and ministry. He always refuses to give them the simple answer they seek. He is always shown as  finding a way out of the double-bind they have set and turns it into a problem for them. He does this time and again as he enters ever more deeply into his struggle with the authorities and into the very center of  civil/religious/political power of his day-Jerusalem. His living embodied message and his speaking truth to power was clearly showing to his followers then, and hopefully now, his central mission and heart. His mission and message were regarding the moral and political issues of his day: The abuse and injustice of irresponsible government and religious oppression of people was to Jesus an abomination to God and all humanity. His  timely open rebellion against this oppression is what led to his finally being arrested, convicted and crucified. Sadly, this central meaning of the gospel's  Story of Jesus seems to be all but lost in much conventional interpretation over the centuries.( In respect to past centuries of Christianity I would note we have more information and Biblical scholarship than they had. Along with that growing knowledge about the Bible and Bible times also comes greater responsibility in getting the true heart of the  story of Jesus more correctly understood.)
Roman Oppressive Taxes Left Jewish People In Poverty.

Back to the Coin Story and its context and purpose in Mark's narrative. This story's purpose was surely not to pass on the conventional and mundane admonition that, “We live in two worlds, the spiritual and the secular, we should give both worlds equal respect and tribute,eg give to Caesar(even if unjust and inhumane) what is his and to God what is God's.” This literal, 'common sense', conventional interpenetration that separates religious meaning from political and real-life human situations has been used throughout the centuries to coerce Christ admirers into submitting to oppressive religious and civil authorities, whether over themselves or others. It has been used in American history to convince people that non-violent civil disobedience is always wrong and against the teachings of Jesus. That Christians are basically to never stand up against the injustices and oppressions that happen, to them or others, in the politics and religion of real life. Such an interpretation stands against the whole point of Mark's gospel as I have viewed it above and certainly against what Mark is teaching in the 'Roman Coin' incident which I will describe below.

Jesus' powerful adversaries came again with an entrapping question: 'Do you teach that 'tribute' or taxes should be paid to Caesar?” They reasoned that if he said simply ' yes' he would be telling  crowd that they should never rebel against or resist the oppression these same power authorities were exposing them and their families to. That would defeat the very thing Jesus was in Jerusalem to demonstrate for all people, both friend and foe. If he said 'no' then he was seen as an outright anarchist against Rome and the local Jewish leaders. That would justify the authorities arresting and shutting him down before he had fully made his embodied statement for which he was willing to die. That statement can be heard as: ' The Jewish common folks owe God everything and they owe this despotic and oppressive Roman government and religion nothing until they both begin to measure out justice instead of oppression and discrimination.' Jesus, as usual, does not give them a simple 'yes, no' answer. He does not fall for their over-simplified ,strong-headed vision of complicated situations regarding justice and truth. This model can be a  valid and continuous challenge for any serious admirer of Jesus and searcher of truth and justice today.

Instead he asks his accusers to give him a Denarius Coin(a Roman coin worth a common day's wage) They hand him theirs and he holds it up to the whole crowd to see. He asks the questioning authorities, “Whose image in on the coin?” The image of Caesar on it. So they reply, 'Caesar's image.' Then Jesus said to his accusers, implying it to be most obvious, (Then you) 'give to Caesar what is Caesars.'  And likely after a long pause and turning  to the crowd he adds, (And you)" give to God what is God's."  This amazingly crafted interaction has been conventionally  interpreted as a long about  way for Jesus to say,  'Yes, always pay your taxes just as long as you also give something to God.' And so our inherited conventional , but now very unenlightened, interpretation is, 'Good Christians should pay their taxes- even when despotic, inhumane and life destroying- to the Civil authority.'

But make no mistake,  those wanting to hear Jesus that day heard the opposite. Here is the information needed to understand what has happened in Mark's story. The Hebrew people we now know, thanks to good archeology and Biblical scholarship, were allowed to have the Roman Denarius Coin without the picture of Caesar on it. Devout Jews would not use the Roman Denarius, especially in their temple worship, for they considered it a desecration and betrayal of God. This is why the gospels speak of there being 'money changers' in the Temple grounds so  Jewish people could exchange their 'Caesar Denarius' coins into Roman approved coins of the same value without the inscription of Caesar. This was one of the ways that Rome made a show that they offered the lowly Jews some religious respect. Since the Hebrew Torah forbids worship or 'tribute' to be given to anyone but their one God Yahweh, they were allowed to have the 'non-Caesar' in-scripted coins. Jesus' adversaries had likely forgotten this since in had no impact on their secure lives. So when Jesus' adversaries showed Jesus  a 'Caesar' coin they were emphasizing, to the crowd, without realizing it  that they were Caesar worshipers. And the crowd 'heard' Jesus telling his adversaries, “If this Caesar is your lord than give him everything he asks of you.” But all the oppressed Jews in the crowd knew that the Denarius they honored did not have Caesar on it. At this very moment Jesus' adversaries' attempt to entrap him was foiled. Their efforts to separate the crowd's affection for Jesus had done just the exact opposite. So the oppressed crowd would get it when Jesus added,"( But you) Give to God what is  God's." Which of course is everything for the devout Jew.  That made it clear that Caesar was indeed not their Lord(That they need not live in their mind in two world's, Rome's and God's, to whom they owed some kind of balanced loyalty.) And so unless the taxes levied were just, not life destroying to individuals and families, and not inhumanly oppressive they were required religiously to give 'nothing' to Caesar.

So Jesus, and the gospel's author, masterfully is able to make his point: 'It is right and necessary, though often life threatening, at times to stand firmly against established civil and religious authority.' And  in fact that is exactly why he was now three days from being crucified for that very kind of 'subversive' activity. Surely  Mark's story of the “Roman Coin' has immense challenge and application in the every day life and world view of any admirer of Jesus.

Some Pertient Resources: