Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:13-14)
We’ve already looked at this passage as it relates to the parable immediately following it and the issue of covetousness. But I was enjoying this account tonight for a different reason — seeing that Jesus does not choose sides. Ever.
This man approached Jesus, requesting that He set his brother straight. In his eyes, clearly the whole “eldest son gets everything” tradition was unfair, and clearly his brother was in the wrong, so clearly the great Teacher would jump in and defend him. Right? Wrong. Jesus doesn’t take sides. Rather, He set out a killer parable that would hit both men at the true heart of the matter. Who ended up with how much of the inheritance was not the main issue at hand, but rather, the covetousness so evident in the question threatened to bring significant harm to both parties.
Later in His life, The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into taking sides (Luke 20:21-22). “Then they asked Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth…'” [Note: Jesus isn’t persuaded by flattery, either.] “…Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
The Pharisees were essentially presenting Jesus with two choices. Would the great Rabbi side with Rome, or with the zealots? It seemed like the perfect catch-22.
He could side with Rome, and say, “Of course! They’re the guys in charge. It is totally good and right to pay taxes to Caesar.” The problem with that approach is that Caesar had a pretty shady way of collecting taxes, and the people all knew it. Jesus would have been backing the corrupt, oppressive government (not godly) and estranging most of His hearers (not wise).
The second option was for Jesus to side with the zealots of His time, and say, “Of course not! Rome is an evil, unjust system, and we as the people of God shouldn’t give them a thing.” While this might satisfy His listeners, He would have been rebelling against the authorities (not godly) and getting Himself in gigantic trouble with those authorities (not wise).
I can’t think of many places in the Gospels where Jesus’ sheer brilliance comes out more than it does right here. Seriously. This Man is a genius. Recognizing their trap, He asked to be shown a denarius — a coin bearing Caesar’s inscription and image. Jesus’ answer is classic: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).
Not only did He completely avoid taking sides, but He brought to the forefront the much more important issue. The coins bore Caesar’s image and should be rightfully given back to Caesar. Human beings bear the very image of God… what then should we do with ourselves? Caesar could keep his money, as far as Jesus was concerned. Christ was far more interested in people.
One of my favorite accounts of Jesus pre-incarnate is again where He refuses to take sides. Joshua, just recently given charge of the nation of Israel, sees a Man standing across from him with a drawn sword. So he marches right up to Him (there’s boldness for you!) and asks, “Are You for us or for our adversaries” (Jos 5:13)?
The Lord’s answer is priceless. “No.”
Jesus wasn’t on the Canaanites’ side. Neither was He on Joshua’s side, as much as He liked Joshua. He was on His own side. “…but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Joshua’s next act was to fall on his face and worship. Smart move.
Our job as intercessors is not to convince Jesus to join our team and rally behind our cause. It’s not going to happen. Our job as intercessors is to convince our own hearts to care about the things He cares about, and get on His “side.” It’s much the same concept as when Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done…” It’s about knowing His heart and saying yes.