On God and Government
“True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ…True freedom can walk away from anything – wealth, honor, fame, pleasure. Even power. It fears neither the state, nor death itself” (former Archbishop Charles Chaput).
Our Lord challenges our dedication today. In one ultimatum, he expresses what exactly God expects from us: Render to Caesar what is Caesars. Render to God what is God’s. If that does not convict you, look into your heart and get real.
The Pharisees had set up a trap. Jewish society was divided. As in our times, marked by tension between conservatives and liberals, the Jewish people were fractured between opposing parties. The Pharisees and Herodians were loyal to Roman Government. The Zealots resisted, violently, recognizing a type of “Anti-Christ” in Caesar. They challenged the authorities and refused to pay taxes. So the Herodians hoped to trick Jesus Christ.
“Tells us,” they said, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” If he said it was lawful, then the Zealots would call him a sympathizer. If he said it was not, the Herodians could arrest him. Jesus sidestepped both traps.
“Show me the money for the tax.’ And they brought him a coin. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, “Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15-21).
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
For over 53 years, Arthur Blessit carried a 12-foot-cross throughout the world. Across 43 war zones, between the United States, South America, the Middle East, and even North Korea, Blessit dragged his cross. In each land, he walked through turmoil and violence, but at the sight of the cross, everything came to a standstill. For a passing moment, the politics quieted, the gunfire ceased, and the hatred paused. The cross of Jesus Christ silences the world.
His Kingdom stands above our kingdoms. Our loyalty must always remain there.
What belongs to Caesar? The coin was a perfect illustration. After all, it had Caesar’s face carved on it. Caesar printed the coins. Caesar disseminated the coins. Let him have them. We are not entitled to anything in this world. We are neither entitled to food, money, healthcare, respect, nor anything. We have no rights. God has put the power in the hands of the world’s governments, for the time being, for His ultimate purpose. At times, he does so to allow Christian flourishing. At other times, he hands out power to allow Christian martyrdom.
Where is our responsibility? We are here to serve Christ and the Kingdom wherever we are.
St. Paul adjoins the Church, “Be subject to the governing authorities…Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:1,7).
We have a duty to defend certain values in society. We are members of a republic in America. We share a responsibility to manage our country, much as a father and mother are responsible to manage their household. But our fight is not personal and it must be selfless. Our heart cannot be attached to any of this. Our loyalty, first and foremost, is neither to country, nor to the State, nor to world peace nor any causes. Our loyalty is to God.
So what then belongs to God?
“We are to render to God things that are God’s…body and soul and will. The coin of Caesar is in gold, on which his image is stamped. But man is God’s coin, on which is the image of God. Therefore, give your money to Caesar; keep for God a blameless conscience” (St. Hilary of Poitiers).
We owe God our purity.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27).
Unstained. Can we really say that about our life? With the music we listen to, the television shows we watch, the consumerism we revel in, are we unstained from the world? In my home, with four children seven years old and younger, I have become well acquainted with stains — mud, food, drink, and worse…it does not take much to stain anything. As for as worldliness, we are expected to be unstained entirely. “Keep for God a blameless conscience.”
We owe God our time. Our Lord designed us to pray unceasingly.
“Raise your thoughts up to heaven night and day,” St. Anthony taught. “Persist in prayer diligently, with all your heart.”
“Truly blessed is he who cries out to Him unceasingly in his heart, who is as mentally near to the prayer of Jesus as the touch of air on our bodies or a flame to a candle (St. Hesychius).
Whether we live a long life or a short life, it does not matter. All that matters is whether we render what time we have to God.
We owe God our love and affection.
“To love the Lord God with all one’s heart means to desire nothing but Him and His holy will” (Fr. Thomas Hopko.
The Mother of God steers the way: “Behold the handmaid of God. Be it done unto me according to thy will.”
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Render to God what is God’s. May God purify our devotion.