…Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” — Matthew 17:26-27, NRSV
Why is it that whenever someone defends “freedom of speech” in this country, it’s because they are being a jerk? I suppose it is technically true that one can say (mostly) whatever they want, and people can respond (to an extent) however they feel is appropriate. My issue is that the freedoms we seem so eager to embrace appear to be free of any duty to utilize them responsibly, and this is a problem, especially when we are examining Christian behavior.
Enter Jesus. In the text above, the full passage being found here, Jesus and the disciples are accused of not paying the temple tax, a payment that more or less went to the upkeep of the Jewish Temple. To not pay it would be considered both rude and unlawful according to the mandate set forth in Exodus. Jesus then has a conversation that parallels earthly kingdom practice with the nature of God’s kingdom, and in both of those, Jesus indicates that “the children are free.”
Yeah, buddy! Dang right, we are free. We don’t have to pay a stupid temple tax. Of course, Jesus then says, “However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
Wait a minute. You just said we were free… Yet we still have to act in a way that is inoffensive and perceived to be costly?!
It concerns me when I see my fellow Americans, particularly Christians, emphasizing freedom when it comes to what they say and do with no regard for how it affects others. The current situation with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford is a perfect example. For me, the question isn’t even about those two individuals anymore, especially when I see people react the way they have to Dr. Ford’s accusations. Our nation has once again had its rape culture exposed, this time defended by partisan politics. Little “jokes” and “jabs” here and there have surfaced, many of which amounting to outright attacks that make light of sexual assault survivors in general.
Sure enough, when someone is accosted about these tasteless comments, they use words like “freedom” and “opinion.” But if Christ teaches us anything, it is that our freedom is not a blank check to speak and act however we want, as God is still concerned about how we use our freedom. After all, Adam and Eve had freedom… and their bum choices had severe consequences, yes? So will all of our crappy words and actions.
In Romans 6, Paul encourages us to “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,” but to “present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Jesus did several things He didn’t have to in order to not ruin His witness to the truth of God. We should follow their lead and stop using our freedoms and feelings to justify our callous comments and actions that could have damaging effects on others.
I hope you will join me this week in keeping better track of how we use our “rights.” While we technically can do many things, that doesn’t mean that we should make use of that freedom at all costs. If we are willing to sacrifice the emotional and physical well-being of others to express our “freedom,” we are still under the slavery of sin and far from accepting of the transformative grace of God. If, however, we temper our freedom with understanding and compassion, we will find ourselves walking in the way of Christ, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to life.
Peace be with you!