But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor (Matthew 27:14).
It worked for a while. Jesus answered the question about taxes in a way that left his duplicitous questioners astonished. Luke concludes the story by saying “they became silent.”
But they didn’t stay that way. And the answer that had allowed Jesus to side-step the trap being set for him didn’t work for long. Sadducees soon came asking theological questions. God and politics. If they couldn’t get him with one, they’d get him with the other. Finally they arranged for an inside job of betrayal and arrested him under the cover of darkness.
Eventually Jesus was on trial – standing before the chief priests, standing before Pilate, standing before Herod Antipas. Again, all asked questions. This time Jesus barely answered them at all.
From the question about taxes to the trial that would lead to his execution, we see a remarkable consistency in Jesus and his response to the power of the state. In a word, he is indifferent.*
The “render unto” answer about taxes paid to Rome is saturated with indifference. Jesus won’t be pulled to the agenda of one side or the other. He doesn’t shake his fist and spew anti-Roman rhetoric. And he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in endearing himself to governing authorities, hoping that they can help him further his agenda for the poor and disenfranchised.
At his trial Jesus appears indifferent to the rulers who question him. Jesus doesn’t seize the opportunity to make his case to those in power. Absent is the anger and anxiety that might have moved the accused to seek help from the governor. Rather, what we see is something almost dismissive (John 19:11).
How are we to understand this? The four gospel writers describe it with varying detail, but none of them explain it. Perhaps what we see in Jesus is his deep awareness of the reality of a different Kingdom. This Kingdom was so real that the government had little to offer by way of threat or help. Jesus isn’t hostile to the state, just indifferent.
For many of us the “Kingdom of God” is shiny with a veneer of unreality. The more ethereal this Kingdom is, the greater our propensity to identify it with a Kingdom we can actually see. When Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, his announcement was not contingent on decisions being made in Rome. He didn’t look for help from those who implemented Roman policy in Judea. It was a declaration of a reality that existed alongside Roman authority, but in no way depended upon it.
Once again, the example of Jesus challenges us, even rebukes us. Other Kingdoms seem far more real to us: The corporations that employ us, the government under which we live, the school from which we seek a degree. Without even knowing it we seek validation from so many little kingdoms.
What would it mean for the God’s Kingdom to become the defining reality of your life? How does the Kingdom of God become real in the daily-ness of your life? We’ll end the week tomorrow by looking at the Jesus way and what it would mean for us to do what he did.
Lord Jesus, you taught us to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. We pray the words, but we lack expectancy. Teach us to pray, and having prayed, help us to live in the reality of your presence among us. Amen.
(I am deeply indebted to Eugene Peterson’s excellent treatment of this in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, pp. 287-96).