What are you staring at?

by Bill Davis


Does anyone remember in the early 1990s those peculiar pictures called "Magic Eye"? To the uninitiated, it was just an interesting colored pattern. But stare just right, and you saw a 3D image pop off the page/screen with a whole scene that wasn't there before, yet was there all along.  Some folks might stare and never see it. But if you learned the trick to adjust your perspective, you became part of the in-group who saw the hidden image otherwise missed by the casual observer.  The trick was to relax your eyes enough to let them go just a bit cross-eyed, which would then allow you to process the stereoscopic effect that made the 3D image come into view.


This Sunday in continuing our Gospel of Mark series, we'll be spending time in Mark 12:13-17, where once again some very clever religious leaders opposed to Jesus think they've cornered him into a no-win scenario with a trick question on paying taxes. "Should we pay them, or should we not?" they ask, doing all they can to hide their smugness. Jesus will surely be trapped: advocating to pay the Roman tax will make him an enemy of the people, but advocating not to pay will label him an enemy of the state and criminally guilty of insurrection.


But as usual, Jesus offers a perspective on a whole other level. Frankly, you and I are not much different from those clever Pharisees. Not that we want to test or trick Jesus, but rather simply that we often look at situations wearing 2-dimension blinders when Jesus has a whole other level he wants us to see. He does that a lot. Consider his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, with the familiar cadence of "You've heard it said... but I say." Or the lawyer who wanted to narrow down "who's my neighbor," and then Jesus blew his mind at just how big his neighborhood really was. Or the rich young ruler who thought he had checked enough boxes to earn God's favor only to learn he had totally missed the real checkbox God was after (his surrendered heart).


"Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" was the reply that "utterly amazed" them. Their 2-dimensional thinking just exploded into multiple dimensions. Our thinking should be exploded as well. Those of us familiar with this passage perhaps often remember it with the phrase "render to Caesar what is Caesar's", and understandably so. Yes, submit to authorities and render to Caesar. But if you're at all like me, you might too conveniently forget the command to "give to God what is God's." 


Hmmm, what is God’s? The prophet Malachi reminds us that failing to "bring the whole tithe" to the house of God is akin to robbing God (Mal 3:8-10). So, 10% is God's? But the wisdom writers remind us that God's "portion" is nothing short of 100% (Psa 24:1, John 41:11).  And then we’re reminded in Romans 12:1 that our offering is our whole self as a "living sacrifice."  Wait... we’re not just talking about money anymore?


A bit later, Romans 13:7 shows us that stopping at money is far short of rendering to God what is due. What about respect and honor? Do we grumble at authorities? Do we truly show respect to those who sacrifice for us, even though we may disagree with that boss, leader, parent, etc.? Do we pray blessing upon those in government authority even when we're in polar opposition to their policies? 


We so easily miss God's bigger picture because of our limited perspective. Unlike the "Magic Eye," however, it's as if we must uncross our eyes to see rightly. Our perspective naturally biases us to see via the self-focus of our sin nature and miss the 3-dimensional scene that God sees. We must ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see rightly. "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law," Psalm 119:18 exhorts us. May we continue to pray that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened (Eph 1:18). May we be those "who look intently at the perfect law" until we indeed are “doers who act” (James 1:25).


With some prayerfully-dependent right staring, the result that seemed previously hidden may in fact "utterly amaze" you.