Psalm 101, 109; 1 Macc. 3:42-60; Rev. 21:9-21; Matt. 17:22-27
Hoo boy, does Jesus get relevant today! He says, point blank, that He has the right to refuse to pay the Temple tax–and then (exact words) ‘so that we do not give offense’ pays it anyway. That is to say, the Persons Whose example we’re supposed to follow as Christians says that sometimes, my rights take back seat to how my actions impact others.
I’m not saying that you should bite your tongue when it comes to Jesus: He is inherently offensive, with His claims of divine Sonship and His unattainably high ethical demands. When it comes to telling the truth about Jesus, offend away–He Himself in other places is clear that people will simply be offended by Him. And as a corollary, if you’re made in the image and likeness of God (and you are, see the evidence in Genesis!), then being honest about who you are and what you believe is also not something to hide.
But other stuff? There’s a lot of offense being given lately about stuff that has nothing to do with Jesus or with who I am. Vaccines, for instance: I’ve read horrible things online about those who choose to take a vaccine and about those who choose not to. Look, I’m clear on this: vaccines have been around a long time, they’ve saved a lot of lives, they’ve always come with small but real risk, and for the life of me I can’t see any proof that the Covid vaccine is any different on those fronts. I take all of my vaccines, and I’m unapologetic about it–and I’m also aware that I could get Guillan-Barre or headaches or even in rare cases death from doing so, Covid and flu and mumps alike. I also don’t shove it down your throat, and respect if your choices are different from mine–and yet, I’ve been lumped (without name, to be sure, but lumped nonetheless) into groups which some of my online friends have called, and I quote, “brain dead,” “stupid,” “sheople” and other things far less kindly because I chose to take a shot. Thanks, ‘friends.’ And yes, that offends me. I’m not stupid, I’m not a herd-dweller, and I’m not obligated to justify my choices to you unless they actively impact you. I could go on: the anger that erupted a few months ago when I suggested that voters ask their elected officials what, precisely and exactly and without talking around the issue, they planned on doing to lower gun violence was, well, to be honest, offensive. Asking people who are elected to do things what they intend to do isn’t an attack on the Second Amendment: it’s asking people elected to do something what they intend to do. And yet, hoo boy, was that a lesson.
And none of that was about Jesus, and none of it was about me. That seems to be the primary problem we face in modern America, from a spiritual perspective at least. We’ve confused wanton offense for bold honesty, confused the loudest shriek for the most authentic expression of conviction. But friends, the decibel level of one’s outrage and the repetition of one’s insults have nothing to do with truth, nothing to do with wisdom, and nothing to do with the gentle Jesus Who today says that sometimes, even He doesn’t stand stiffly on His rights, but instead pays the inconvenient and unnecessary tax simply so that no one else needs to be offended. And again, as a Christian, that’s the model–not my preacher, not my favorite on-line Christian apologists, and not a pundit or politician wearing a cross on her scarf–that I’m supposed to follow. The example of Jesus Who says that sometimes, being right is more important than standing on my rights. And if you don’t think that this is a practice worth cultivating, please explain to me why Jesus is wrong to pay that tax even though He has the right to refuse it.