Once again the verses that we receive for this day are incredibly challenging. I want to view them first from the perspective of Paul. Remember where Paul is when he is writing this letter to the church in Rome. As we said at the beginning in chapter 1 it is believed that he is in Corinth having already been in and out of prison under the hands of the Roman government. He was also keenly aware of his fellow believers who had been arrested and executed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. So when Paul tells us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” and “You also pay taxes, taxes to whom taxes are due”. Jesus is also consistent with this exhortation to pay taxes when he tells us render unto Caesar. Here are two people who represented this group of fledgeling Christian believers who were terribly persecuted, told to obey the governing authorities and to pay taxes to the very same people who were taking away their lives. How does this make sense? How would the early founding fathers and mothers have reacted to this Scripture as they called out: “No taxation without representation”. That’s not what Paul says here. How can Paul do that in the context in which he lived.
Let’s consider Paul’s theological perspective on what was right around the corner. Look starting at vs.11 how he lays out the reason for why we should not resist, for why we should pay taxes, for why we should basically be outstanding citizens and respected by all. He says that now is the time for us to wake from our sleep. What does that mean? Well, we know that he consistently uses the word sleep to mean death. So it is now time for us to wake from our death and claim the eternal life that Jesus has promised to us. When does this happen? He says that salvation is near and that we are to put on the armor of light. Throughout Paul’s writings he is convinced that Jesus’ return is imminent. He will be coming back at any moment. As he states in vs.11, we are closer now to Jesus’ return than when we first became believers. If this is your driving purpose, then it does not make sense to marry, it does not make sense to pursue justice, it does not make sense to object and fight for your rights, it does not make sense to get out of the situation in which you find yourself. If Jesus is coming back any day, not any week or month or even year, then just keep on keeping on and when he comes back everything will change.
The problem for us today is that Jesus still has not come back. Are we allowed to have a different perspective than Paul in regards to the end times? We still believe that Jesus can and will come back, we just simply do not know when and we probably don’t/(shouldn’t?) have the same teleological excitement and expectation that Paul had. If our Kairos moment has shifted from any day or minute to someday, then our lives look different. Then we shift fr0m Paul’s imminence to Isaiah’s justice that will roll down like waters. This is the shift that I have made in my own thinking and understanding. It does not detract from the expectation, the any day expectation, that Jesus is coming back. That is still part of my thinking and my belief. But I also recognize that until he does come back we have work to do. We can get married, we can work our fields, we can speak out against injustice, we can protest when we are being taxed without representation, we can question governments and their policies, we can speak out when injustice abounds at the hands of people. See how things change when we have a Christian world view which expects Jesus to come back but within a time frame that demands our action and our participation in this world? It was different for Paul.