So tell us teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? This text has been used to justify nearly every political position over the past two millenia. But like so many questions, it ends up telling more about the questioner than the questioned.
When we seek to engage Jesus and the divine to straighten out our issues, we are projecting our concerns onto the divine and coopting it to enshroud our lives with a veil of certainty. In so doing, we lose sight of what an encounter with the divine might have in store for us.
So, are we to stand speechless before the Holy One? Are we not to ask for solutions? Perhaps an answer might come via metaphor or analogy.
So often when someone first comes in for mental health counseling, there is a tacit assumption, that ‘I am basically fine, I just have this one problem with someone or something I need to fix.’ The second assumption is that the therapist is akin to a car mechanic and can tighten a mental fan belt or change a psychic spark plug and ‘I’ll be on my way!’
The encounter with Jesus needs to be an encounter that accepts that my entire life is in need of healing and reorientation. Secondly, my life is enmeshed in a system beyond my making and control that determines who I am, even before I wake up each morning. Finally, that there has to be a hope that there is an entirely different way of being-in-the-world that is possible.
This encounter with the divine is either occasioned by a perceived crisis or the “accidental” encounter triggers a crisis of consciousness.
What I am arguing is that there needs to be an awareness that everything must change and must change radically, i.e. from the root. St. Paul says I count all my former accomplishments as loss for the surpassing worth of Christ. This change requires courage and full participation. A quick touch-up will always end in a jaded cynicism.
When we come to church, we come in the most mundane ways. We dress up or we come casually, but what we have to know is that at some level we are on our way to engage in a sacred dialogue that has the capacity to touch the very core of our being. Maybe no one can see the magnitude of these simple acts, including our own selves, but they are nonetheless always there. So, to once again reference St. Paul, “Let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”