No King But Caesar

No King but Caesar!

“We have no king but the emperor!”

So shouted the crowd at Pilate when he pushed the issue and asked,
“Shall I crucify your King?”

“We have no king but the emperor.”

Were they just manipulating this petty Roman governor?
Putting him in an impossible situation?
Forcing the issue so that anything less than crucifixion
would have been a serious abrogation of duty?

Or did they mean it?

Had they so accommodated themselves to Rome,
so compromised their own radically independent faith,
that they could actually confess,
“we have no king but the emperor”
in stark contradiction of their own central commitment,
“we have no king but God”?

Could there be a more devastating declaration in the history of Israel?

And yet, the church has, in large part, continued to make the same declaration.

Why don’t we let Wendell Berry make the point:

Despite protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo. Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into Heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its human communities and households. It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of empire. It has assumed with the industrialists and the militarists that technology determines history. It has assumed with almost everybody that ‘progress’ is good. … It has admired Caesar and comforted him in his depredations and faults. But in its de facto alliance with Caesar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of Creation.

That’s what happens when you bow the knee to the emperor.

That’s what happens when you get in bed with the empire.
You connive directly in the murder of creation.
You wave the cross as you connive directly in genocide.

You see, once you say,
“We have no king but the emperor,”
it is inevitable that you will then shout,
“Crucify him!”

And once you have called for the crucifixion of the King of kings,
well a lot of other people,
and indeed the whole of creation
is now up for a similar fate.

This week we continue to stand in judgement over Jesus.
We join Pilate and the crowd.
And we have to decide who we want to serve,
Caesar or the King of the Jews.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “No King But Caesar”

  1. Allison

    God give us the grace! I’m reminded of a Coptic community I visited recently who was forced to make the choice at great cost. We seem content to believe we needn’t choose. What frustrates me is my unwitting allegiance to Caesar every day, so etched into my cultural framework that I struggle to see it happening even as I speak against it. “Be transformed” says Paul, “by the renewing of your minds.”

  2. John Deacon

    Wow – thanks for this. Time to get off my knees and begin serving anew the King of the Jews!


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