Their common endeavor is obviously not noble. Jesus, aware that they “plotted to entrap” him, is clever in his response: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ response cleverly reaches both the Pharisees and the Herodians, right where they are, such that “they were amazed.”
More than cleverly getting the Pharisees and the Herodians to “shut up”, however, Jesus reveals extraordinary truths. Jesus suggests that his presence does not eliminate that of civil authority, an authority legitimate not because well exercised but because, as Jesus says, in the gospel of John, chapter 18, verse 36, when on trial before Pontius Pilate, His “kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus reveals that the kingdom of God respects human reality, from which it is distinct (not separate).
This is otherwise captured by a simple theological truth, to which most Christian denominations subscribe: the work of the Redeemer respects the work of the Creator. The renewing work wrought by Christ respects the natural order come from the Creator. The “structure” of who we are as human beings is not changed by our encounter with God in Christ. Something deep inside us is touched by God, and we are granted access to the mystery of God. But we must still, while guided by God in a way that is deeply respectful of human freedom, ask our own questions, make our own personal and political choices, plan our own futures, decorate our own homes, exercise our own bodies, and repair our own mistakes. Divine intimacy does not eliminate human autonomy and responsibility. What a daunting, liberating and amazing journey: held in intimacy by a God whose love knows no bounds, yet free, invited to choose. I suppose true love truly does presuppose freedom…