Sermon for Ordinary 29 Year A
19 October 2014
The Reverend Canon Charles Royden
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s
A wonderful passage to look at this morning. The Jewish leaders come to Jesus and they are really nice to him, praise him and behave as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. However they are actually trying to trap Jesus and find evidence to use to put him to death.
Their question is simple
Should people pay taxes or not?
Should the poor Jew pay Rome a poll tax to support the Roman occupation and suppression in their land?
Jesus is between a rock and hard place. He can publicly make a statement against Rome or he can be seen to support the occupying force.
The response of Jesus is to ask for a coin, The annual poll tax on all adults was one denarius, equivalent to a day’s wages, and it had to be paid in Roman coinage.
“Show me the coin used for the tax,”
And there, in the holy temple, the Pharisees gave him a Roman coin with its idolatrous inscriptions and image. It is produced with Caesars head on it. The mere fact that they possessed the graven image in the temple condemned his questioners, but the answer which Jesus gave has had theologians arguing ever since.
Then Jesus says the familiar words which have become perhaps one of the most famous sayings of Jesus.
‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’
It is an enigmatic statement and one of the most misused and misunderstood of the things which Jesus said. It has been used as way of suggesting that as Christians we should divide ourselves up between and religious bit and the secular bit. The stuff which is about faith and stuff which is about living in the world.
So people will say things like,
‘Keep religion out of politics !’
So at the very start let us recognise that the person who most obviously did not live in that kind of duality was Jesus !
Jesus made it perfectly clear that God was interested in every single little part of our lives. If Jesus had merely wanted to influence a private matter of faith then he would never have been killed. The truth is that Jesus really made a nuisance of himself, because he challenged power and power is always about politics.
When Jesus says
"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
Make no mistake Jesus is not putting God and Caesar on a level footing with equal and competing claims.
The suggestion that Jesus is saying in these words that we should render taxes to Caesar is ridiculous. If we are in any doubt then we need only look at the passage from Luke 23. The Jewish leaders brought Jesus up before Pilate and they accused him saying,
We have found this man subverting our nation.
He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar
and claims to be Messiah, a king.
So what is Jesus saying ?
We need to start from the position which we know, that Jesus believed everything belong to God, all things were derived from God, even political power.
What belonged to Caesar ? Answer - Nothing
The story is easily twisted to support an easy separation of church and state. It is used to tell the church to stay out of politics. But actually there is no separation of religion and politics in Jesus’ time. Such an argument is ridiculous.
But it is the same today - theology and politics were and are inseparable. There is no other way to give God what is God’s. I cannot separate out issues which do not concern God and only concern “Caesar,” the state. It all concerns God.
If we consider that all things belong to God, including the way in which we structure our society then as Christian people the way we live, who we vote for, what issues we choose to fight for, are both the political and religious outworking of our faith.
After all when we pray ‘thy kingdom come thy will be done’ surely we are praying for political and social change as well as religious change.?
Jesus was heavily into the politics of his day, he was however no politician. Politicians are careful with their answers because they do not want to upset you, they want to say what they believe you want to hear, so that you will like them and vote for them. That is what we call democracy.
Jesus ends up being the friend of nobody. Jesus does not give a political answer he gives a truthful answer - and nobody wants to hear the truth. If the public wanted to hear the truth the politicians would be falling over themselves to tell it to us. But what we want is somebody who will tell us what we want to hear.
Jesus is not a populist, he offended everybody - except God!
One things which is clear with Jesus is that he believed we are God’;s children. The notion of a narrowly defined religious nation represented by the religious priest and rulers was discarded from his birth with the worship of Magi and Jesus became recognised by Simeon as the one who brought salvation before the face of all people, a light to lighten the gentiles.
The coin bore the likeness of Caesar, humanity bore the likeness of God.
I wonder if you ever thought that you look like God. God's image is on us. We are God's. We are more than what we possess, or what we believe, we are more than
the political ideas we have. We are God's.
And when I say we bear God's likeness, I mean humankind. God is not a white middle aged male. God is female, Jew, Muslim, they all bear God's likeness. This is an interesting one because quite often we talk about the poor and the needy as though some are more important to be helped than others, because they live near us, or are like us. We need to remember that God's love knows no borders, his call for compassion and mercy, knows no borders, they are Gods children. The poor belong to God, no matter what they believe or look like, they are his. If we try to separate ourselves from those who are poor and in need then what we do is to separate ourselves from God.
No matter how different we might think we are from others, how much acceptable to God we are, and how less acceptable they are, we must never forget that beyond all things we are all God, made in his likeness.
Jesus is reminding his hearers that they are each one of them God's.
Vatican II observed, ‘even in secular affairs there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion’ (The Church, 36); and the psalmist tells us that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Ps 24:1-2). Indeed, Caesar and all that is his belongs to God, although God’s will may well be that we respect the state authorities (so long as they do not trespass on His prerogatives).