7 Nov 2021
"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and
unto God the things that are God's."
The Scribes and Pharisees of our Gospel today try to trap Jesus by posing a question about paying taxes to Caesar. If Christ said to pay the tax, the Pharisees could denounce him to the people as a Roman collaborator; if he spoke against the tax, they could hand him over to the Roman governor as a revolutionary.
Yet the Scribes and Pharisees failed, because Christ, in response, asked to see their money, which turned out to be in Roman coins. Under the Jewish law that the Pharisees claimed to follow, even touching a coin engraved with the image of a man, in this case Caesar, made one unclean and unable to enter the Temple. Dirty hands! The crowd probably laughed at the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. Christ declared, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Some people think that Jesus is literally dividing the world between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s. But Jesus, in all His teachings, taught that God is master in all things. God made us. We need to make it clear that we have the same understanding. We cannot be blind to the right priorities in the problems that arise in life: God’s prime importance is clear.
Jesus’ answer to their question is as though He were saying, “It is Caesar’s coinage. His rule has brought you good; therefore, pay your taxes and obey the law. Leave the rest in God’s hands.” Jesus did not want to be the source of the Jews revolting against Rome. He knew this would inevitably bring great pain and suffering. His example to the Church and its clergy is not to meddle with disputes about things secular, but to leave these issues to those who by right should deal with them. The government we live under spells out our responsibilities as citizens, and that should be our guide.
The Church is not the enemy of government. Christ's kingdom, of which we Christians are citizens, is not of this world. It is our duty as citizens to obey the laws of our land. As we render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we need also to render unto God the things that are His. Essentially, God requires our effort in worship, spreading the Gospel, and performing charitable work. The difficulty is when Caesar demands of us the things that we owe to God. The martyrs of all the ages, including our own time, testify to our Christian duty when this sort of nightmare is upon us. When the Nazis ruled Germany and the Communists ruled the Soviet Union, we have seen true Christians stand up and obey God’s will when man opposes it.
With Thanksgiving coming up in the United States, let us not forget our duty to the Lord to give Him thanks for all the blessings of this life, “but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory” as we say in our Daily Office of Morning Prayer.
*Thanks to L. R. Tarsitano’s sermon at Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah
November 15th, 1998
Bishop Edwin Tompkins