The Christian life may be summed up in one word: obedience. The spirit of obedience is much harder to pursue than the letter of obedience. Though it certainly must include this sort of honest citizenship, Mark 12:13-17 is about much more than filing honest tax returns. After all, would they all have been really so “amazed” when Jesus told them to do something quite so obvious, even easy? Or is it more likely that the amazement stemmed from nary a word about rebelling against an authority who gave no second thought to his own deity and trampling the sovereignty of God’s own?
Mark 12 is about authority and submission. If we’re being honest, these are not themes Americans naturally abide. Our very existence is the result of rebellion. We are nurtured on the virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, warnings to “not tread on me” and entreats to bestow liberty or (gulp) death. We have a polity that invites, encourages, even rewards, dissent. This is not to suggest our time and place is the realm of antichrist in a withdrawal-y, Anabaptistic-sort-of-way, or that America isn’t a great place to raise kids. Rather, it is to wonder, if the short hand for the Christian life is indeed obedience, just what sort of bearing our theological beliefs have on our ideological devotions, if any.
If the hearers of Jesus can gasp at his rendering instruction in light of obvious problems, is it really such a stretch to suggest that, despite popular sentiment to the contrary, American polity is more antithetical than encouraging to Christian piety? It could be that it isn’t quite as safe and happy to be an American Christian as sermons on Memorial Day and platitudes on July 4 might think. It might be that what we presume as a blessing is closer to what it means to struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.
To this end, Andy Webb at Building Old School Churches has a nice post that seems to flesh this out a little more.