Sunday, October 19, 2014

Belong where?

"Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:20

The Pharisee's trick question about paying taxes was the Gospel lesson for today, the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Jesus answer begs the question, doesn't everything belong to God?

I found myself thinking not about everything belonging to God this morning, but about that word belong and about what kind of economic model is implied or assumed in the statement "Everything belongs to God"? Capitalism? God is the owner and we are the labor force? More than enough evil for the day is apparent if you pursue that metaphor; neither God nor capitalists come out looking good. Feudalism? And we are all vassals paying tribute--even the emperor? Might be what Jesus' followers thought of, but we western European thinkers abandoned that Chain of Being social model sometime around the Enlightenment. 

What about other models of God's economic relationship with the world? I'm no ethnographer or scholar of world religions but I've lived with the mythology of the American West long enough to have heard that Native Americans didn't believe in owning land. The Great Spirit put it there to support and sustain all. Fuzzy, hippie thinking? Maybe, but it's a concept of God that will get you away from mental images of dividing piles of coins between taxes, tithe and treasure house. Or from belonging to God meaning servanthood or slavery, with no agency of one's own. It might even lead to better stewardship of God's creation.

When I sat down to blog this afternoon, I typed belong into the search box in the computer dictionary, expecting to have my prejudices about the economic taint of the word confirmed. But no--some other ideas showed up: 
with adverbial of place ] (of a thingbe rightly placed in a specified position: learning to place the blame where it belongs.
have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group: young people are generally very anxious to belong. 
God, to whom we ascribe personhood--which can be limiting, might also be thought of as something like an "adverbial of place"--an "up where I belong" or "at home where I belong." Even "with whom I belong." Giving to God what is God's might mean being rightly placed, rightly oriented, living as part of God's kingdom or reign or without all that kingship stuff--as part of God's life and breath here in the world.

Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's: taxes, coins, whatever. But for yourself, belong to God, with God, where God is.

(Of course, on Tuesday, November 4,  belonging to God's kingdom just might influence your vote!)

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