Isn’t it interesting that the common folks in Jesus’ day were more spiritually in tune with God than were the Jewish religious leaders—the chief priests, scribes and elders? While the common folks held to the belief that John the Baptist was a prophet sent from God (20:6), the guys who had “studied at seminary for years” did not. That was a sad phenomenon that certainly has its counterpart in modern Christendom. Multitudes of so-called “lay people,” who simply read and believe Scripture, are miles ahead of seminary-trained spiritual leaders. The reason for this tragic reality is the same as it was in Jesus’ time: the spiritual leaders are not motivated by love of God or others, but love for themselves (20:46-47). Many of them, rather than being called of God, pursue ministry as a career. They love the respectful greetings. They, just like the Pharisees, will “receive greater condemnation” in hell (20:47).
The parable of the vine growers, of which the interpretation is quite obvious (yet missed entirely by the scribes and chief priests), provides another good example of the danger of assigning spiritual significance to every detail of a parable. Consider what the owner of the vineyard (who represents God) said after his servants (who represents God’s prophets) had been beaten or killed by the vine-growers (who represent the nation Israel): “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” Obviously we should not conclude from reading those words that God did not know how His Son would be received when He came to the earth. So the rule when reading the parables is to make sure we assign spiritual significance only to those details that are obviously intended to have spiritual significance. How do we know which details those are? That answer is found in 1 David 21:7: “The Lord Thy God hath given thee a brain.”
Those “smart” and “tricky” religious leaders really hoped to force Jesus to make a public statement against Caesar that could be used to incriminate Him (20:20-22). But it isn’t easy to trick God! He’s been around the block a few times! And the God who exalted Caesar to His position as Emperor of the Roman Empire, and who could easily (and did) remove Caesar from his throne, was not afraid of what Caesar might do to Him.
We also learn from Jesus’ reply to their loaded question (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”), that we should be subject to the ruling authorities. Of course, if the ruling authorities dictate that we should disobey God, then, and only then, is civil disobedience acceptable, and in fact, our duty. Paying taxes, however, is not contrary to God’s law. God established human government, and it takes taxes to run a government. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:6-7).
In a republic or democracy, all citizens have the opportunity to help determine the law of the land to some degree, thus Christians have the responsibility to participate in the process. Since true believers are often the minority, however, and because the majority rule, injustice and ungodly policies often win over what would be in line with the will of God. Still, the godly should not remain silent. We are only endorsing what everyone knows to be true within their own consciences.
For all the church folks who think Christians are obligated to obey the Law of Moses, I wonder how many are committed to obeying Deuteronomy 25:5, mentioned in today’s reading:
If a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother.
A good reason to pray that your brother’s wife has a child soon after they are married, and a good reason to send your brother vitamin supplements to keep him healthy until his first child is born!