Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things
which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
(St. Matthew xxii. 21)
One of the most difficult enterprises in Christian life involves holding things together. Christians try to hold together their bodies and souls in the service of God. They try to hold together their marriages and families. They attempt to hold together the church and even civil society as one nation under God. Christians are quite intent on holding together who are intended to be united by God. Yet the devil is in our midst to divide and rend asunder and break down. We tear babies out of mothers’ wombs and call the separation a healthy choice. We rend asunder marriages because narcissistic heathen cannot abide the sacrifice that is called to struggle to keep vows. We divide our bodies from our souls, thinking that their connection is arbitrary and without any spiritual meaning for the psychosomatic unity of a person. Of course, we’ve done nothing but divide ourselves from ourselves. What God intends to be one – one in oneself, one with others, one with Himself – we Christians are in danger of losing through division. But God always intends to hold us together through Jesus Christ our Lord and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
Yet, our prayerful desire to hold it all together is not made easy. We pray in this morning’s Collect that the author of all Godliness…[might] hear the devout prayers of the Church, and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Of course, our prayers should be devout and sincerely aim to be one with God. Devout praying asks God to hold us together individually and collectively. Christians should want to go to God’s Kingdom first and foremost by not offending God who is all good and deserving of all of our love, and by conquering sin and death. But Christians who are awake will find that God’s desire for us has competition from the world, the flesh, the Devil, and even from the realm that the Caesars of this world rule and govern.
The Devil’s attacks are more direct and discernible. The Rulers and Governors of this world are more subtle. Gone are the days when they fought valiantly against the enemies of the Christ and His Cross. In fact, these days, it seems that the Caesars of this world are offended at nothing but Christ, His Cross, and the beautiful history of the West that it engendered. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s has become increasingly difficult in a world where the Caesars are positively godless and a serious threat to those journeying to Christ and His Kingdom. Caesars who disrespect freedom of conscience make it very hard for contemporary Christians to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. It is even more difficult for intelligent Christians who know that modern freedom, of course, comes only from Jesus Christ, the King of Glory. The Caesars of this world fill men with fear over the gain and loss of perishable treasures, determined to hold them captive to the false gods of a human nature that is at odds with itself and all others. Through faith and reason, Jesus Christ intends the happiness and communion of another world.
Of course, the forces of division present in the contemporary world have been around since the dawn of time. In the world of today’s Epistle and Gospel, they were alive and well in vice or even heresy. Vice is common to all men in all ages and leads most men to Hellfire and Damnation. Heresy is a bit more interesting since it, at least, attempts to give man religion, as misconstrued as that may be. As we read last week, in his Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul is writing to the first Christian Church in Europe. Today, we learn that he is warning them of both heresy and moral corruption. Moral corruption divides man from the good of his body, soul, and spirit, the good of his neighbor, and from God through sin. Heresy divides man from the knowledge of how God redeems the body, soul, and spirit, how He enables man to love his neighbor, and how He draws all men back to Himself. Moral corruption and heresy threaten salvation and man’s return to God.
St. Paul was dealing with heretics in the Early Church. He is worried about the Judaizers. Judaizers were early Jewish Christians who demanded that salvation be contingent upon strict adherence to the Jewish Law. Jewish Christians insisted that circumcision, dietary laws, and ritual observances were necessary to salvation since salvation is of the Jews. St. Paul, who knew the Jewish Law perfectly, believed that Judaizers were encouraging Christians to be held by the Law and not by the God of the Law. St. Paul knew that the Law could never save a man. He writes to the Galatians, I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. ii. 21) Again, he writes, For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh….(Rom. viii. 3) St. Paul believes that the Jewish Law revealed man’s habitual weakness and inability to be faithful. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. iii. 24) The Law brought the Jewish people into the consciousness of being held by sin and death. For those who insisted upon a rigorous submission to the Law, St. Paul has a solution. Strict adherence by ritual observances has been overcome by the Law made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Christ alone has fulfilled the Law, has obeyed it perfectly, has suffered its end in unjust death, redeeming it in Himself. Through His unearned, unmerited, and underserved death on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ has brought the Law of Sin and Death to Death in His Death. Jesus Christ, the Forgiveness of Sins made flesh, has made Atonement for the sins of the whole world. The true meaning of the Old Law is found in Christ. The New Law brings life and Resurrection if we allow that Forgiveness of Sins, Jesus Christ, to overcome our sin in death to the world. The New Law means that we can be held together in body and soul, with one another, and with God once again in Jesus Christ. We can once again Render unto God the things that are God’s (Idem) because it was not possible that Jesus Christ should be holden of death. (Acts ii. 24)
Remember, Jewish Law and Roman Law, upheld by the Pharisees and Caesars, respectively, are two expressions of the same Law: the Law of Sin and Death. Neither the Jew nor the Gentile could overcome them. That neither Law could hold Christ in Death is the Miracle of Redemption. That Christ continues to hold us in His Liberating Hands is the Miracle of sanctification that leads to our salvation. God in Jesus Christ fills those who mind earthly things with holy terror. They fear what they cannot control or ever really possess. God renders Caesar’s good impermanent and unreliable. If the Gospel is true and men learn of it, the hold that godless rulers have over us becomes tenuous.
Yet, still, we as Christians must pray about what rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Idem) really means. The heretics of the ancient world and the Caesars of our own seem Hell-bent on breaking Christ’s hold on our memories, minds, and hearts. St. Paul says, Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. (Phil. iii. 2) He continues,
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the Cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (Idem, 17-19)
Long ago, St. Paul criticized the Jewish heretics and immoral believers to shed light on the dangers of Christians who are held by false gods and mind earthly things too much to be of any heavenly good to themselves, others, and God. He showed us that Christians can be as earthly-minded as the Pharisees or any pagan Caesars. Christians too can be dividers and sewers of discord, held by Satan and lost to Heaven’s hold.
How can we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s if we are trying to escape his hold on us? Why do we owe Caesar anything? It doesn’t seem to make much sense. Jesus referred to paying taxes to the Roman Emperor for the protection, law, and order that his Legion provided. That was a reasonable tax. But how does it apply to us? Jesus means it in a spiritual sense. We can show Caesar that our [true] citizenship is in Heaven. (Ibid, 20) We can honor Caesar and his heathen friends by showing them that Caesar and all men belong to God. For our conversation is in Heaven, from whence also we look for our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Idem) We can tell our unbelieving neighbors that we too were once held in Satan’s grip by sin. We can relate to the Caesars that we are being saved by God’s Grace, which has an eternal hold on our souls because our frail flesh hasn’t any hope without the love of a more Glorious Ruler. We should render to Caesar the witness of how King Jesus holds us in His loving embrace. We should render unto Caesar ourmourning. With St. Paul, we weep…for those who are the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, who mind earthly things. (Idem) When we render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, may the Caesars realize that we mourn for them.
Caesars have a hold on citizens with which he intended to make a handsome return. As Matthew Henry remarks, If purses be Caesar’s, our consciences are God’s. Caesar has us superficially; God has us substantially. Caesar belongs to God. St. Augustine says, Christ’s coin is man. In him is Christ’s image, in him Christ’s name, Christ’s gifts, Christ’s rule of dignity. (Vol. vi. NPNF (1st) Let us return ourselves to Christ fully in will and in deed. In urging us to render to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, Jesus, our King, at least stumps the Pharisees. When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him, and went their way. (ibid, 22)
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