James once said “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself form being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). This doesn’t seem like such a radical point of view until one considers the way that the Romans viewed religion. Borrowing from Richard Horsley’s Jesus and Empire, we can see just as much Romans viewed religion as an extension of the state:
“The most divine Caesar…we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things…; for when everything was falling [into disorder] and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave it to the whole world a new aura; Caesar…the common good fortune of all…the beginning of life and vitality…All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the beginning of the year…who was being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and [whereas] having becoming [god] manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all hopes of earlier times…the birthday of the God [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news (gr: evangelion) concerning him [therefore let a new era beginning from his birth).” –OGIS 2.#458
When James says the word “religion” and does not include the word “Caesar,” he is subverting empire and committing a crime against the crown. Not only that, but it is a commentary on the whole power structure of Rome. How did Rome perpetuate the infamous Pax Romana? The ‘peace of Rome’ was sustained by taking money from conquered people’s in the form of tribute to the capital and Rome redistributing that money to Roman legions who would, in turn, protect the crown. While Rome takes from others to protect themselves, the church, as a vital and life-sustaining force for the world, gives to others who cannot protect themselves.
But this is the way that church has always been. We have always been called to give ourselves away and to show God’s grace by helping the helpless. We have always been called to share the gospel to all, even if this means great personal loss for ourselves. We have always been called to carry our cross. We have always been called, even if it is dangerous…