OK, more like “Gray Friday” since the retailers have been bombarding us with ads and “special prices” for days now, even opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day to garner more sales.
But today marks the “official” beginning of the holiday gift buying season.
And it is a perfect icon of our society and what we value. On the one hand, we really have succumbed to such a consumerist mindset that the Pavlovian trigger of “sale” actually has us queuing up outside the “box” retailers to wait in the cold to get a slip of paper that gives us permission to purchase a product at a particular price so we will “have” the product. One begins to wonder if we “have” the product, or does the “product” have us? This is especially true of my own weakness for electronics. I know they build in shorter and shorter lifespans for these products, forcing me to “buy again” in a few years, but still, it’s a shiny new toy!
On the other hand, this is also an icon of a system that has brought unprecedented wealth and economic achievement into the world. Our society has created a place where even the poor among us are considered “wealthy” by the vast majority of the population on the earth. We have so banished hunger that the main problem in our society is obesity. We are a wealthy society, at least in terms of “products.”
But is that wealth? Is the lack of hunger actual nutrition? Is the accumulation of “stuff” real prosperity?
The answer (I’m sure you’re not surprised to read this from me) is more complicated than the questions themselves. Too quick an answer on either side sets you up for a different set of stumbles on the other side of your “too quick” answers.
Jesus deals with this sort of situation in today’s Gospel Lesson. How wise of the Holy Spirit to have this Gospel Lesson fall on this day in this society. One might even start to think God is actually and lovingly overseeing His world!
Jesus is confronted with the duplicitous motives of those around Him trying to trap Him so they can destroy Him. By the way, that is the reality of anyone who leads or is called to lead. There will always be those around you whose motives are at least suspect. It’s the reason the scripture declares that “Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” John 2:24. As an aside, the discerning of motives, even in my own heart, is a gift worth cultivating in humility and love!
But our Gospel Lesson reveals a path through this trap of “either/or” and “for/against.” Let’s read: At that time, the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them. So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveling at his answer they were silent. Luke 20:19-26
Notice Jesus sidesteps their flattery. Flattery is always a clue to challenged motives. Sincere compliments are nice, but flattery will get you nowhere! Then the Lord uses wisdom, not shrewdness, to overcome their hidden motives. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” These spies hoped to catch Jesus in a trap by having Him say that Caesar’s secular tax was evil. That way, they could report Him to the government as a rebel leader and then Rome would arrest Him. Or, they could get the Lord to say the tax was good and then turn the Jewish people against Him because the people hated being under an occupying army and foreign government.
But the Lord sidestepped their tricks with wisdom. Give what belongs to Caesar back to Caesar. After all, true freedom is an internal reality. In fact, if you are waiting for external answers to your internal struggles, you will always be a slave to your surroundings. Internal freedom comes from internal spiritual discipline. And freedom from within can never be taken from you, no matter what your external circumstances.
That is why, on this “Black Friday” (by the way, the name comes from when a business is finally in the “black” during their year), our Gospel Lesson asks us to do the hard work of living in the world but not allowing the fallen world to enslave us.
Today, instead of falling prey to reducing your real self to merely a “consumer” (that sounds almost inhuman), why not stop. Ask your family to choose a charity to add to your giving list this year. And then commit a portion of the money you were going to spend on “stuff” that wears out or comes with a “limited warranty” and put that amount into hungry mouths, suffering people, and needy folks in your community. Why not add generosity and charity to your frenzied season and watch as this wisdom undoes the hold that “things” have on us?
Today, give adequate attention and purportioned energy to your everyday living, but allow the wisdom of eternal truth to break the chains of the temporary to intoxicate you into the slavery of the temporary. Learn, through the disciplines of the faith (after all, we are in a fasting period of the year) to give this world only the attention it requires and not the blind devotion it craves. You were made for “another” Place, my dearest. Act like it.