In creating the format for the Sunday worship service I included an offering sentence, an offering hymn, and the Doxology. Recently, there have been times when no offering was taken, but we have gone through the ceremony anyway, because, for some of us, the form our offerings takes won't fit in the offering basket. In almost 40 years of doing church work I have never put a dime in the offering basket because I have always been contributing to the church in other ways; to me my time is my money. Today's sermon takes a look at Jesus' instruction to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
As we shall see, this saying came in response to a trap the pharisees were attempting to lay for Jesus; they were trying to get Him to make some seditious statement or other, that would put Him in the power of the Romans. The Romans had no interest in Jesus' status as the Jewish Messiah, but they were very concerned with quelling the political rebellion of the Zealots; thus, if Jesus were to admit to an alignment with this dangerous, violent faction, the Jews would have a legal excuse for turning Him over to the Romans for violating a Roman law. The story is cited not only for its spiritual insight, but as an example of how Jesus was always able to give His enemies the slip if He wanted to--that He was not only spiritually enlightened but also street smart; it just goes to emphasize the fact that Jesus' ultimate surrender to the Romans was completely self-motivated, a part of His plan for sacrifice and redemption.
Now, the scriptures:
Mark 12: 13-17
13 And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Hero'dians, to catch him in his words.
14 And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
15 Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
16 And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's.
17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marveled at him.
Matthew 22: 15-21
15Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
20And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.
21And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:
[Notice how sneaky they are trying be, flattering the Master, pretending to be humble students of truth, lacing the spider's web with honey to catch the fly. I'm sure Jesus had to smile at that.]
22Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?
23But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
24Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.
25And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.
26And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.
Render unto Caesar...
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
""Render unto Caesar…" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (“Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ”) (Matthew 22:21).
This phrase has become a widely quoted summary of the relationship between Christianity and secular authority. The original message, coming in response to a question of whether it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar, gives rise to multiple possible interpretations about under what circumstances it is desirable for the Christian to submit to earthly authority.
The Bible states that hostile questioners tried to trap Jesus into taking an explicit and dangerous stand on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to the Roman occupation. They anticipated that Jesus would oppose the tax, for Luke’s Gospels explains their purpose was “to hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” The governor was Pilate, and he was the man responsible for the collecting of Rome's taxes in Judea. At first the questioners flattered Jesus by praising his integrity, impartiality, and devotion to truth. Then they asked him whether or not it is right for Jews to pay the taxes demanded by Caesar. In the Gospel of Mark, the additional, truly provocative question is asked, "Should we pay or shouldn't we?" Jesus first called them hypocrites, and then asked one of them to produce a Roman coin that would be suitable for paying Caesar’s tax. One of them showed him a Roman coin, and he asked them whose name and inscription were on it. They answered, “Caesar’s,” and he responded “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” His interrogators were flummoxed by this authoritative (though ambiguous) answer and left disappointed.
The Pharisees and the Herodians
The Jewish Encyclopedia says, of the Zealots:
When, in the year 5, Judas of Gamala in Galilee started his organized opposition to Rome, he was joined by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, R. Zadok, a disciple of Shammai and one of the fiery patriots and popular heroes who lived to witness the tragic end of Jerusalem…. The taking of the census by Quirinus, the Roman procurator, for the purpose of taxation was regarded as a sign of Roman enslavement; and the Zealots’ call for stubborn resistance to the oppressor was responded to enthusiastically.
Accusations of tax resistance against Jesus
At his trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was accused of promoting resistance to Caesar's tax.
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ/Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:1-4)
One of the theses of an essay by Ned Netterville entitled, Jesus of Nazareth, Illegal-Tax Protester, is that the principal reason why Pilate crucified Jesus was his opposition to Rome's taxes. Evidence of Jesus' guilt could have been presented showing he had interfered with Rome’s collection of taxes by calling Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) away from his tax booth in the midst of his duties (Matthew 9:9). Pilate may have known or could have been told that Jesus had induced one of his chief tax collectors, Zacchaeus, to repent and resign his leading position in a Roman territory where Pilate was personally responsible for tax collections (Luke 19:1-10). Evidence could have been introduced showing that Jesus spoke disparagingly of tax collectors on several occasions (Matthew 5:46, 18:17), even equating tax collectors with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32). Jesus was known to enjoy the company of tax collectors, for instance at dinners in the homes of Matthew and Zacchaeus, so he may have influenced others to quit their profession to follow him. Jesus showed compassion for tax collectors as he did to other vilified groups, such as prostitutes.
The gospels say that when Jesus gave his response, his interrogators “marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” They were unsuccessful in getting Jesus to unambiguously come out either in favor of paying the tribute to Rome or in favor of tax resistance. Advocates for either argument could interpret his words in either way.
Time has not resolved this ambiguity, and people continue to interpret this passage to support positions that are poles apart.
False dichotomy, adroit avoidance of trap
Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes in hope that he would answer "yes" or "no". Answering "yes" would have left him open to the accusation that he was in opposition to Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation and therefore (given the assumption by the Jews that they still held privileged nation status with God at this time) against God too. Answering "no" would have given those present an opportunity to report him to the Roman authorities as someone who was trying to incite a revolt. His questioners had assumed that there was an inevitable (and hazardous) dichotomy between discharging one's obligations to the state and discharging one's obligations to God, but Jesus refused to confront the dichotomy as framed by his hostile questioners and instead pointed to the assumptions behind it.
Some people consider this parable as not primarily instructional but as an example of Jesus’s skill in thinking on his feet. His questioners tried to trap him between the horns of a dangerous either/or question, and he deftly gave an answer that seemed to meet the question head-on but actually avoided taking a position.
Leo Tolstoy wrote:“Not only the complete misunderstanding of Christ’s teaching, but also a complete unwillingness to understand it could have admitted that striking misinterpretation, according to which the words, ‘To Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s,’ signify the necessity of obeying Cæsar. In the first place, there is no mention there of obedience; in the second place, if Christ recognized the obligatoriness of paying tribute, and so of obedience, He would have said directly, ‘Yes, it should be paid;’ but He says, ‘Give to Cæsar what is his, that is, the money, and give your life to God,’ and with these latter words He not only does not encourage any obedience to power, but, on the contrary, points out that in everything which belongs to God it is not right to obey Cæsar.”
Highlighting the dangers of cooperating with the state
Some see the parable as being Jesus’s warning to people that if they collaborate too closely with state, as distinct from God's, authority (for instance, by using its legal tender), they become beholden to it. Henry David Thoreau writes in Civil Disobedience:"Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. “Show me the tribute-money,” said he; — and one took a penny out of his pocket; — If you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it; “Render therefore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God those things which are God’s” — leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know."
Mennonite Dale Glass-Hess wrote:"It is inconceivable to me that Jesus would teach that some spheres of human activity lie outside the authority of God. Are we to heed Caesar when he says to go to war or support war-making when Jesus says in other places that we shall not kill? No! My perception of this incident is that Jesus does not answer the question about the morality of paying taxes to Caesar, but that he throws it back on the people to decide. When the Jews produce a denarius at Jesus’ request, they demonstrate that they are already doing business with Caesar on Caesar’s terms. I read Jesus’ statement, "Give to Caesar…" as meaning “Have you incurred a debt in regard to Caesar! Then you better pay it off.” The Jews had already compromised themselves. Likewise for us: we may refuse to serve Caesar as soldiers and even try to resist paying for Caesar’s army. But the fact is that by our lifestyles we’ve run up a debt with Caesar, who has felt constrained to defend the interests that support our lifestyles. Now he wants paid back, and it’s a little late to say that we don’t owe anything. We’ve already compromised ourselves. If we’re going to play Caesar’s games, then we should expect to have to pay for the pleasure of their enjoyment. But if we are determined to avoid those games, then we should be able to avoid paying for them."
Mohandas K. Gandhi shared this perspective. He wrote:"Jesus evaded the direct question put to him because it was a trap. He was in no way bound to answer it. He therefore asked to see the coin for taxes. And then said with withering scorn, “How can you who traffic in Caesar’s coins and thus receive what to you are benefits of Caesar’s rule refuse to pay taxes?” Jesus’s whole preaching and practice point unmistakably to noncooperation, which necessarily includes nonpayment of taxes."
Of course, Ghandi would attach a political resonance to this story, and it cannot be denied that Jesus' teachings always include a practical component--they point us to right action--in this case, INACTION. However, I am less interested in the the offering that is NOT given than I am in the offering that IS given.
From The Threefold Social Order, Joel A. Wendt writes:
"In the process of the thinking which has led to these observations, I spent some time wondering just what was meant by that verse in the Gospel of Christ Jesus which says: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.". Over time I came to realize the following. The State has no existence but what the humans, who conceive it and act it out, make it to be. Unlike sense perceptible objects, the State is a social form entirely built up out of man's ideation and deeds. The principle remains the same, even though in many instances certain individuals or groups are able to form the State according to their particular individual vision. Thus, when Christ admonishes us to "render unto Caesar", we are being directed to understand and appreciate that the State has its being and its nature from what we give to it.Where we withdraw in apathy, or otherwise seek from the State only that which benefits us, we give to the form of the State just such characteristics. For example, as much as we might think that America is what it is out of the Constitution, it is much more important how Her people behave presently. As long as most people "render" unto the State only what they must, and then only for their own purposes, the State in its being and nature can only reveal such characteristics."
Most of these commentaries quibble over, not necessarily WHAT to render to Caesar, but HOW MUCH to render to Caesar. As citizens of the world, we have to use the same money as everybody else, so the question naturally arises, "How much of our worldly goods is Caesar's and how much is God's?" Embedded in this question is the hidden agenda, "How much of our worldly goods is Caesar's and how much is OURS?" The coins of the realm are marked with Caesar's image, he makes a claim on it by virtue of this identification. The real question is how is God's currency marked, whose image is marked on His currency? How do we identify God's cut? To what degree (if, indeed, it can be described as a matter of degree) do we identify with Caesar's currency, and to what degree do we identify with God's currency. The dualistic nature of human existence is always nagging us for an answer to these questions--where does the physical end and the spiritual begin?
I have used this C. S. Lewis quote at least once, recently, maybe twice:
"A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself."
C. S. Lewis is insistent upon this one point: in the spiritual world, Caesar's claims amount to exactly NOTHING. Furthermore, it can be suggested that, to the spiritually-minded man, Caesar's claims on our physical world is, if not nothing, very, very little, not because bread, and gas, and electricity are free, but because we should attach very little importance to these things. I know people who are totally freaked out about the state of the world economy, the threatening doom of our current standard of living--the future looms like a horrible nightmare of deprivation and loss. But to the spiritually- minded man, the state of his outer world should hold no threat, because the important currency of life is in the realm of the spirit, which must ever remain unaffected by economics. My faith does not allow me to imagine some terrible world in which life is not worth living because some material luxury is denied me. People always adapt to conditions, and the spiritually minded man can always lean on the protection of the saints, when everybody around him is crying havoc. The spiritual realm provides constant protection from adversity, no matter how apparently bad the outer circumstances may be. If I allowed my self to succumb to the negativity rampant in the current economic climate, I would be rendering my PEACE OF MIND unto Caesar; I say to you, Caesar HAS NO CLAIM ON MY PEACE OF MIND.
FromThe Gospel of Christ's Humanity, Rudolph Steiner writes:
"The reason why this sojourn in the Great World dazzles and bewilders is that, in the material world of the senses man, is accustomed to altogether different conditions. In the world of the senses he is accustomed to consider everything from a single viewpoint; and if he comes across something that does not tally exactly with the opinions he has formed from this one viewpoint, he regards it as false. This is quite suitable for life on the physical plane but if he were to attempt to pass out into the Macrocosm through Initiation still holding the opinion that there should be conformity in this sense, he would never find his bearings. His mode of life in the world of the senses is such that he places himself at a particular point and from this point — as though it were his snail-house — he judges everything. But when he undergoes Initiation his consciousness passes out into the Great World."
For quite a long time, I have based my dealings with the world on the principle that: you cannot give anything away. Whenever you try to give away something, it always comes back to you. A good example is how I stumbled into college teaching:
In 1987, my family escaped the madness of California, and wound up in the Pacific Northwest. I had a job conducting a Presbyterian church choir, I got into the Spokane Symphony, and I had ONE student. Christmas 1987 was a dreary, anxiety-ridden affair. That spring, 1988, I saw an ad in the paper concerning a community orchestra that had been led for the past 20 years by a medical doctor, whose musical expertise was practically nil, but whose pocketbook kept the group going; the deal was, he would conduct the townspeople for a few months, and then hire some pro musicians from the university to come down and carry them through the concert. Well, he was retiring, and the group was disbanding. I went down there and offered my services for free to keep the group going. One thing led to another, and soon I was leading them in a room donated by the small state college there. I also got permission to teach a few private lessons before rehearsal, in a room down the hall from the head of the music department. After he heard me jamming on the piano before class, he practically begged me to join his college jazz band. I was a big hit, and, before I knew it, I was the private piano instructor, and I was teaching music appreciation. By the end of my stay there, I was doing more teaching than either of the "full-time" instructors. On the strength of all the experience I accumulated at that college, I got a job teaching at the big university up the road, and when I left Washington for Illinois, I got a job for two years at another Jr. College in that area. I am now teaching music appreciation online for Prince William Sound Community College--a gig which adds substantially to my monthly income. All this because I was willing to conduct a ragtag community orchestra for free. If I had insisted on getting money for my services, I would have been rejected, and a whole huge component of my professional career would have never manifested.
I understand that if you play the stock market you can make money by investing here and cashing in there. I suggest that a similar karmic tit for tat exists in the world of spiritual currency, where the intersection of spiritual motives and material effects creates our personal dualistic blend of spiritual and carnal reality. I submit that in rendering to either Caesar or God, Karmic cycles of attachment are initiated which play themselves out in the associations we maintain in our daily dealing with these two higher and lower worlds. Furthermore, it is the character of this blend of mundane and divine that results in the ultimate quality of our existence as we straddle the gap between these two worlds.
There is no standardized blueprint for the "right" relative proportions--as in all things, these proportions are a matter of choice; moreover, some of these choices have already been made before the world began, so that, even if we wanted to, we would be incapable of changing some of our limitations and potentialities in this regard. Some of us have had the world of spirit opened up to us in dramatic one-time events, while others of us follow a somewhat tedious, step-by-step course along the spiritual path. Nevertheless, for each one of us, the relationship of God to Caesar in our lives is a unique combination of higher and lower mind states, the sum of which is who we are and who we will become. And all of us have, at some point been faced with a Rubicon moment--a moment when we had to choose God or Caesar--and from that moment all subsequent moments have logically, inexorably ensued. The quality of the offerings we place on each of these opposing altars determines the level of our identification with those altars, our level of commitment to them, and our ultimate Karmic reward.
Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the opportunity to live in this marvelous natural world in which many THINGS come to us for us to use and enjoy. Let us never lose sight of the divine presence resonating in our palaces and in our garbage cans. Let us invest appropriately in the savings accounts of earth and heaven so that the coins of Karma might eventually add up to a wholesome balance that satisfies our mundane needs, but also adds to our store of spiritual treasures. At the end of all our speculations, as at the beginning, let us render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's. And please lend us the wisdom to tell which is which. Amen.
October 2, 2011