In the wake of the worst mass shooting in Texas, which occurred yesterday in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, everyone is already arguing. This is partially good, because it means people care, even if it has to be a specific kind of death to warrant one’s concern. On the other hand, all of us getting indignant (no matter how technically righteous) will result in what has typically been done: nothing. What hope and guidance does God give us in relation to such senseless violence?
In the time of Christ, things weren’t so different. The Roman Empire ruled with an (often subtle) iron fist, and death was a part of everyday life, even if it was dressed up as justice or entertainment. Jesus’ message came to us in a time of immense suffering, and though we have done a pretty good job of watering down this message in a lot of ways, the fact remains that the Gospel of Christ was intended to speak to us in the darkest of times, and when our young people are dying as a result of gang violence (often ignored in these conversations), when worshipers are massacred in what was intended to be a place of love and safety, and when so many seem resigned to the inevitability of such things, I would say we are in the midst of such times, and the Gospel has something to say.
In Matthew 22:15-22, Jesus offers his famous response about paying taxes to Caesar and giving to God that which is expected. What does that have to do with this particular conversation? In the text, when Jesus asks for the coin, the focus is on taxes. Technically, the focus is on him saying something to violate either civil law or the Torah (Law or Instruction; Hebrew Bible, specifically, the first five books), but the topic is paying taxes. ANYWAY, Jesus holds up the coin and asks, “Whose image and inscription is on this?” The Greek word for image in this case is eikon.
Important? Yes. You see, at this time, Matthew, Jesus, and anyone else who wasn’t in a synagogue would have been using what is called the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. Matthew, the writer of this Gospel, used the Septuagint for Old Testament quotes and wrote the Gospel in Greek. Now, remember that word eikon? Let’s take a look at the Greek version of Genesis, specifically 1:26. On verse 26, second line, first word, do you see something that looks like this: εἰκόνα? Transliterated to English letters, it is (EEEK!) eikona! See a similarity there? I apologize, but the Bible nerd in me loves when this kind of thing pans out.
Anyway, getting back to the main conversation, Jesus’ word of advice is to “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt. 22:21). The image of Caesar is on the coin, so that goes to Caesar, but whose image is on humanity? That’s right: God’s. Jesus reveals that God isn’t concerned about things, but about the faithfulness of people. PEOPLE. Not things.
What does that have to do with the senseless tragedies that surround us? Too often, we argue about the things and what to do with them rather than how we can be faithful as God’s people in the midst of this darkness. What’s the difference? Let’s take a look at the anti-gun/anti-gun regulation argument, and let’s not pretend that this didn’t start as soon as we learned about all those innocent people dying.
This argument is going to fail and result in nothing. Do you want to know how I know? Because no one is concerned about people. They are concerned about things, namely guns. “But we are anti-gun because of people!” It doesn’t show when you enter into the discussion. “But we are anti-gun control because we care about people and their freedom and safety!” It also doesn’t show when you enter the discussion. Both sides of this are so consumed with the idea of rights or bans or laws that they forget about what the issue really is (or should be): the preservation of life and the love of people.
You see, we are in a society that is always against something. ALWAYS. Whether guns, abortion, immigration, race, monuments, or any other hot-button issue out there, we are always piping up about what we are against, but the thing is that nothing seems to change, and that’s precisely because all that this amounts to is complaining. There are no (good) solutions proposed that are workable, and these issues (while important) become things we “just can’t talk about” because they get everyone’s blood pressure up (James 1:19-20, anyone?).
Our political structure thrives on this because ultimately, our bickering and silence amounts to a great degree of comfort for those in charge. They don’t have to pass any difficult legislation, all the while the world just keeps spinning as we continue arguing about what to do with our stuff. So what is the solution proposed by Christ and how does that help us?
Instead of focusing on the objects and what we are against, perhaps our conversations should start with what we are concerned about, and perhaps (just PERHAPS), that needs to be people. Not objects, not even freedom. What will protect ALL of our people? How can we care for ALL of our people?
If both sides of our political aisle were able to honestly say that they just care about the future of our nation, perhaps things would look different. If we became a nation of people who could let our love for people guide our conversations and decisions rather than the things we do or don’t want, perhaps things would look different. Doubt it if you want, but it hasn’t really been tried, and I’m at the point of believing that anything is worth a shot.
We need to talk about how we can stop, prevent, or at least impede the violence that will eventually tear this nation to pieces. It is a conversation that has to happen everywhere, from top to bottom, from the dinner table to the oval office. It can’t, however, be something that one “side” is a part of. We must make space for each other and move forward in a way that embraces what is common and what is dear to us all. We as a nation need to individually and communally figure out how we can go about our days in a new way that is centered on love for one another and faithfulness to God, and not on the things we do or don’t want.
As you go forth and think, speak, and act in this world, it is my prayer that you will join me in trying to re-orient the way we do these things so that love really is the center of all of it. Vote based on your love of others. Speak based on your love of others. Act based on your love for others. As a further step, do these things based on the love God shows for you in Jesus Christ. Let us give ourselves to God, and not Caesar, so we can let the Holy Spirit move through us in order to shine the light of the Gospel to all we encounter, that we may finally see some change.