Please fill in the blanks for this Biblical verse (big clue: it’s the same word twice):
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to _________ the things that are _________, and give to God that things that are God’s.’” (It’s Luke 20:25, but do you really need to look it up?)
Next ridiculously obvious clue: a coin was shown to Jesus just before those words were spoken. I have a feeling you’ll get the correct answer. It’s a familiar passage and, well, if you’re reading this, I’m confident you’re a smart person!
The verse opening this slice of the third Gospel is equally satisfying and foreboding. Luke 20:20 noted, “So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him in what he said . . .”
Nasty! Sneaky! Dastardly! How 21st century!
For me, the satisfaction comes from the “spies” getting their comeuppance. This is the scene where those who fear Jesus seek to trap him by asking about taxes. Taxes were controversial then, just as now. Maybe what Jesus said would get him in trouble with 1) Caesar or 2) the Roman Empire’s version of the IRS. (Oops, now I’ve helped you with the quiz above!). But nimble Jesus sidesteps their trap. I imagine the spies with their mouths open and their eyes glazed over when Jesus turns the table with his question. And I also imagine, with a little sleight-of-hand, that Jesus figured out how to pocket their sample coin and give it to the poor.
It’s also a foreboding passage. At this stage of Jesus’ journey, his list of enemies has grown. The powerful were nervous. The insiders’ schemes increasingly deadly.
Beyond the satisfying and foreboding perspectives, Jesus’ response had to do with: “What is most important?” Yes, render to Caesar, but aren’t all things in God’s hands?
We don’t need spies to trap us. All of us, all on our own, get entangled in Caesar’s many seductions and complications.
A while back, I attended a writer’s conference and generally had a swell time. But there was one recurring theme during the workshops and seminars that troubled me. For me, it was like a trap, a trick question with a coin about to be revealed. Many workshop presenters warned about how important it was for today’s writers to have a platform.
A platform? This would also be known as a marketing scheme. Writers must have a big footprint in traditional and non-traditional media! Several of the presenters, with straight faces, asked:
- Do you already have a radio talk show or podcast that is popular?
- How many times have MSNBC or FOX News asked for your expert commentary?
- Do you have a Huffington Post blog based on your tell-all political novel where the names were changed to protect the guilty?
A “platform” applies to both fiction and non-fiction writers. Literary agents and publishers want writers to demonstrate they already have a built-in audience. What’s the likelihood that people will “buy” what a writer publishes before the writer publishes? It’s not about answering, “Does the chicken or egg come first?” Instead, the expectation seems: have scrambled eggs and fried chicken. . . now! How many Twitter followers do you have? Do your Facebook friends number in the zillions? Have your Instagram pictures titillated only friends or a vast herd of strangers?
Isn’t serving an audience’s voyeuristic longings or social media’s voracious demands rendering—selling out—to a digital Caesar?
Literally, it was my last moment at the writerly weekend gathering that silenced the nagging internalized trumpet calls to, “Become a platform!”
While leaving, with digital expectations heavy on my shoulders, I spied (in a good way) a woman I hadn’t talked with the entire conference. We’d both attended several workshops and had eaten at the same tables during the luncheons. I noticed her because she was a near-mirror image of a friend. Indeed, it was unnerving because her hairstyle and clothing choices all reinforced the striking physical similarities.
I decided to mention her doppelganger. So, I stopped and talked. But the moment she replied, two spells were broken for me.
With her Texas accent, she did not at sound like my friend. Doppelganger be gone!
As part of our conversation, I inevitably whined (something I excel at) about all of the pressure to build, maintain, and hype a “platform.” Too much marketing, I groused. Too much emphasis on “selling ourselves,” I complained.
With her Texas accent, she said, “Ah, I don’t worry about that stuff. I just want to learn to write better. I want to focus on how I can improve.”
Me, worry? So much of the time!
I needed her words. As far as I was concerned, she knew Caesar’s role in the scheme of life.
What is truly the most important? Caesar, in all the forms Caesar comes in, will always make demands. Some we will render to, and others we should just ignore.
I picture the spies at the front of a curious crowd, trying to entrap Jesus. And yet, with a coin of the realm in his hand, he declares what is essential.
And I hear a voice, with a soft Texas accent, also saying what is essential for me to remember: “I just want to learn to write better.”
To live better. To serve better. To love better.
What do you want to do better? How will you render to God . . . with hype or hope?