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?
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?
Look at our lesson today in Luke 20:19-26:
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.
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.”
Notice Jesus sidesteps their flattery. Flattery can be a clue to challenged motives. 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. 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.
Today, instead of falling prey to reducing your real self to merely a “consumer” (that sounds inhuman), why not stop during this tempting time of year. 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? After all, that’s part of being Orthodox on Purpose!