Whose Inscription?

There is a great moment in the gospel narrative when Jesus is asked a question that many of his fellow Jews wrestled with. Israel was in a strange situation, being in Jerusalem yet in many ways still feeling the pains of exile because of Rome’s oppressive rule. Israel enjoyed few freedoms beyond their Temple practices, often being forced to contribute to a system that revered other gods, goddesses, and idols belonging to Rome and their fellow conquered nations. Though Rome relented and allowed Israel to abstain from offering a “pinch of incense” as they entered each city gate (a way to honor the gods of that city), they were still expected to pay a tribute tax to Caesar. This tax was complicated for Israel; Rome—and Caesar himself—proclaimed Caesar’s role as a deity.

The religious leaders of Jesus’s day debated the virtues or evils that were inherent in the very giving of the tribute tax. On one hand it kept things peaceful (Jeremiah 29:4-7), but on the other, it was counter to their sensibilities of the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Ten Commands (especially Exodus 20:3). These new exiles were left to debate, wrestle with, and find a way forward in paying a tribute to Caesar.

This is the setting for the scene in Mark 12:13-16. It is interesting to note that the two groups sent to trap Jesus were Herodians (who had every reason to keep Rome happy) and the Pharisees (who were most likely against paying a pagan leader tribute). They assumed their trap to be foolproof because Jesus would ultimately have to choose a side.

Enter, stage right, the brilliance of Jesus. He responds to their question by employing the cleverness of a truly great rabbi—a better set of questions! This is where things get interesting and take an unexpected twist for the original questioners, because they responded to Jesus’s two questions, “Whose image?” and “Whose inscription?” with one answer, “Caesar’s.” Jesus corrects their answer by saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

The passage ends with everyone being “utterly amazed,” yet we typically aren’t that impressed with this story. Why should we be? When we look at a denarius we find that throughout the time of Jesus there were several different versions struck for each Caesar. Each of these contained the image of the current Caesar and then a title that made the declaration of divinity of said Caesar. Jesus counters the trap by saying that theimage is indeed of Caesar but the inscription belongs only to God.

This is the picture drawn for us, one that still comes with great difficulty as we wrestle with the theology of our bank accounts. What things, people, and places do we elevate above God? It is not a problem to spend money, to enjoy money, to save money—but we must always know whose inscription is on our finances.

First Published here.

Must be nice…

You’re probably familiar with this phrase or some close derivative of it:

  • x,y,z never happens to me…
  • I’d do anything to have something like this…
  • Wish I were so lucky…
  • I never win/get anything…

I’m sure you could add several other ones to this list. We’re all guilty of these types of responses and have been the recipient of them as well.


With social media taking the place of so many other forms of communications these types of statements seem to be on the rise. I think it is due to a couple of things. First, we’ve become much like the ancient Egyptians where we only record our victories (successes and positives) as opposed to a balanced view of our personal history/story. Secondly, when we encounter our social media threads we find ourself envious of the ideal life that we’ve pieced together from all the ‘great‘ things happening in everyone’s lives around us.

What would it look like if our first responses to good news for others was NOT to compare our own situation but instead to celebrate the favor that they’ve gained?

Our behavior on social media often reminds me a bit of a biblical story of ‘The Prodigal Son‘ where the one brother returns and the other’s response is something along the lines of, “but I never get to…” When we insert ourselves into these moments for other people we’re often guilty of stealing some of the joy, redemption, happiness that they were to receive. Just imagine if the older brother’s response would’ve been to contribute to the party and celebration as opposed to detracting from the moment?

So let’s challenge one another to celebrate the good that befalls our neighbor, cherish the moments of success of our friends, heap gladness onto the fortune of our family members. Let’s learn to bask in the glow of each others joy.


A Sojourner with Dominion?


There is an interesting phenomenon that exists in our world. It is that we begin with the presupposition that it is “our world.” I grew up in the church and in many ways this view was reinforced, afterall Adam was given dominion over all the Creation.

There are so many ways we express this belief of ‘dominion’ whether it be in our insatiable appetite for resources or our feelings of entitlement to space or time. Maybe this is why Sabbath has become nearly impossible amonst us. To participate in Sabbath is to give up control and therefore dominion (we must concede to participate).

It is an intriguing thing when we look at ancient Israel. Their posture towards creation was much different than our own. We never read of them building a bridge, rather they cross through the water. Other than when G_d calls them ‘up’ they found themselves walking around the mountains. The landscape was not theirs to conquer but to partner withh. They had a posture of sojourner, wandering in a land not their own.

Then enters Rome with their famous roads that forced the landscape to submit to their whims – bridges over water and stairways up the sides of mountains. The first highways…progress…dominion! They did not view themselves as sojourners in a land not theirs, rather they were the lords of these lands. The land was theirs to do with as they pleased. Rome did not only enslave peoples they also enslaved nature.

Today we have carried on the tradition(s) and mindset(s) of the Romans. Constantly striving to find ways to make the world a slave to our desires and wants. We forget that the LORD made a covenant with all creatures and all of nature (Gen. 8) – not just man. We live as though the earth ‘owes’ us whatever we desire. We hollow out the earth so we can drive over it. We cut off the top of mountains so we can enjoy our four-wheel drive SUVs. We treat animals barbarically (though barbarians were probably more civil to their animals) in order that we can have meat on the cheap and with every single meal.

Though I understand that this stream of thought is slanted heavily towards an environmental bent…that is not really my point (at least not my main point). My main point is what does the way you live your life say about what you believe? What is our part in the covenants of Genesis 8? Do you live as though you are a guest in the home of the LORD or do you treat the earth and all that inhabits it as endentured servants?

What questions are we not asking when it comes to living a life that reflects what we believe?