A Crucial Lesson from Tuesday of Holy Week
It’s Tuesday. The Iowa caucus results are still unknown. The president is about to be acquitted of his impeachment charges. And tonight, Trump will deliver his State of the Union address. These days, it seems all eyes are fixed upon the unfolding political drama in America.
Yet, as a Christian who’s trying to navigate these contentious times, I find myself reflecting upon the implications of another Tuesday in history. Jesus’s final Tuesday. Tuesday of Holy Week. And though the day is chock-full of important lessons (after all, Holy Tuesday is the most talked about day in the Gospels), I believe one lesson is especially pertinent for us today.
The lesson comes from Jesus’s response when the Herodians and Pharisees asked him whether Jews should pay Caesar’s mandatory poll tax. Before answering their question, Jesus first asked to see the coin used to pay the tax—a denarius. On the front was the face of Tiberius Caesar, encircled with the words “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The reverse side displayed an image of the goddess of peace. The coin was pure propaganda, and its message was clear: Look to Caesar, your divinely appointed leader; pay his tax, and he will give you peace. “It’s the proud boast,” N.T. Wright wrote, “of every empire, ancient and modern.”[i]
Once he had been handed a denarius, Jesus looked at it and noticed a perfectly formed face imprinted on it. So, he asked, “Whose image is this?” As if the answer was obvious, the Herodians and Pharisees promptly replied, “Caesar’s” (Mark 12:16). In that moment, we learn an important lesson. By asking whose image was on the coin, Jesus revealed that he did not look to the face of Caesar for protection and peace. But evidently, as their swift reply suggests, the Herodians and Pharisees did.
But here’s the really interesting thing. The Herodians were lackeys of the Roman government who generally approved of Caesar and his tax. The Pharisees, on the other hand, despised Caesar and his onerous tax. In other words, even though their opinions of him differed, both groups gave Caesar far more attention than he deserved. All eyes were fixed on Caesar. All eyes, that is, but Jesus’s.
Today, Christians in America give Trump far more attention than he deserves. Regardless of whether you love him or hate him, Trump should not be the one on whom your eyes are fixed. Our eyes are to be focused on another King and His Kingdom. This does not mean the Gospel is apolitical, or that Christians should remain silent when their political leaders advance unjust agendas. Indeed, mere hours after being asked this tax question, we find Jesus calling out the Jewish political establishment for its hypocrisy. Rather, this lesson teaches us that, if Jesus is not the center of our attention, we’ll never know how to embody the Gospel in our time and place.
Focus on Jesus. Not Trump. Then you’ll see clearly how to speak into our troubled times.
[i]Tom Wright, The Scriptures, the Cross, and the Power of God: Reflections for Holy Week. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 27.