It is interesting as you think about the person and life of Jesus, with respect to the world that we live in here in the United States today.
Jesus came onto the scene historically and nationally, into a context in which the times were very troubled, divided, and tenuous. Roman law ruled politically, and there was great conflict amongst many religious and political groups of that day. As we see from the New Testament records, it seems that Jesus didn’t align himself exclusively with any particular political party — although he engaged people from every political and religious sect of the day, people from all walks of life.
At one point two different groups came to test Jesus, trying to catch him in his words. They said, “Jesus, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Implied in their question was a kind of either-or logic that seemed to back Jesus into a corner — if Jesus answered yes, then how could this really be the Messiah, since he would be acknowledging and submitting to the Roman authority? If Jesus answered no, then he would be acting in rebellion and could be arrested. So how would Jesus answer?
He said “Bring me a denarius (a Roman coin) that I may see it. And so they brought it and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” And they said “Caesar’s.” So Jesus answered and said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and give to God the things that are God’s.” And all the people marveled at Jesus (Mark 12:13-17).
In this encounter, there are at least two things that implicitly anchor Jesus’ response and help to provide us with a framework concerning how to follow Jesus in tenuous times with respect to the socio, ethical, and political world that we live in today.
First, in saying “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus recognized there to be two different and distinct spheres of influence, Caesar’s, and those things that belong to the realm of civil government; and God's, including those things that relate to God and the kingdom of God. Historically, the Christian church has survived and sometimes thrived under an array of different kinds of civil governments, including Roman law, dictatorships, monarchism, communism, tribalism, and republics.
Second, when Jesus asked the question, “Whose image and inscription is this?” He implied an all-important affirmation that we all are made in the image of God and bear the inscription of God. This means that we are made to reflect God, to enjoy relationship with God and with each other; and that all people have intrinsic worth. This reality has informed a fundamental perspective on many socio, ethical, and political issues: the institution of rights for prisoners, the abolition of colonial slave trading in England, the Declaration of Independence, the American civil rights movement, a certain view of tolerance and diversity, improvement for education, and foster care for children and youth.
This framework doesn’t answer all of the questions that we struggle with in our day. However, it does provide us with two important windows through which to see the world. Consider what the priorities of Jesus’ kingdom are, and remember that all people have inherent value.