What Belongs to Cesar & What Belongs to God
We have succumbed to such a consumerist mindset that the Pavlovian trigger of “sale” actually has us queuing up outside the “box” retailers to wait in the cold to get a slip of paper that permits us to purchase a product at a particular price so we will “have” the product. One begins to wonder if we “have” the product, or does the “product” have us? Especially at this time of year, we are tempted to confuse generosity with consumerism.
On the other hand, this is also an icon of a system that has brought unprecedented wealth and economic achievement into the world. Our society has created a place where even the poor among us are considered “wealthy” by the vast majority of the population on the earth. We have so banished hunger that the main problem in our society is obesity. We are a wealthy society, at least in terms of “products.” It all depends on how you define “wealth.” If it means having and getting “stuff” then we are the wealthiest society in the history of humanity.
But is that wealth? Is the lack of hunger actual nutrition? Is the accumulation of “stuff” real prosperity?
Look at our lesson today in Luke 20:19-26:
At that time, the scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people; for they perceived that he had told this parable against them. So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose likeness and inscription has it?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him by what he said; but marveling at his answer they were silent.
Jesus is confronted with the duplicitous motives of those around Him trying to trap Him so they can destroy Him. By the way, that is the reality of anyone who leads or is called to lead. There will always be those around you whose motives are at least suspect. It’s the reason the scripture declares that “Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” They insist that we learn about ourselves when we take the time to examine our motivations and our true desires reaps profound spiritual maturity IF we are willing to look that deeply into our souls.
Notice Jesus sidesteps their flattery. Flattery can be a clue to challenged motives. Then the Lord uses wisdom, not shrewdness, to overcome their hidden motives. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” These spies hoped to catch Jesus in a trap by having Him say that Caesar’s secular tax was evil. That way, they could report Him to the government as a rebel leader and then Rome would arrest Him. Or, they could get the Lord to say the tax was good and then turn the Jewish people against Him because the people hated being under an occupying army and foreign government. They thought, in their arrogance, that they had tricked the Lord into either siding with the Roman occupiers OR saying something they could use to tell the Romans that this guy was a subversive.
But the Lord sidestepped their tricks with wisdom. After all, true freedom is an internal reality. If you are waiting for external answers to your internal struggles, you will always be a slave to your surroundings. Internal freedom comes from internal spiritual discipline. And freedom from within can never be taken from you, no matter what your external circumstances. It is the hard work of serious self-knowledge that leads you to a true repentance that changes your perspective on possessions and on the false sense of security that you think material wealth might provide. This changed perspective sets you free to become a truly generous person like your Creator!
St. Nahum, the Prophet ministered to the people of Israel 721 years before Christ. This prophet warned the 10 Northern Tribes that had separated from the 2 Southern Tribes. that they were becoming entirely; too friendly with the pagan powers around them. Of course, the 10 Tribes justified their actions by saying “we are just trying to stay on friendly terms with these powers near us so they won’t conquer us.” The sad truth is their plan of compromise didn’t work and soon the 10 Tribes of the Northern kingdom of Israel will be destroyed and the people scattered to the wind to the point they will cease to exist and their descendants will be known as compromisers and treated as “half-breeds” by the time the Lord Jesus is born. They mistook “safety” and “prosperity” as the highest good, and they fell into idolatry and spiritual ruin.
Today, instead of falling prey to reducing your real self to merely a “consumer” (that sounds inhuman), why not stop during this tempting time of year? Ask your family to choose a charity to add to your giving list this year. And then commit a portion of the money you were going to spend on “stuff” that wears out or comes with a “limited warranty” and put that amount into hungry mouths, suffering people, and needy folks in your community. Why not add generosity and charity to your frenzied season and watch as this wisdom undoes the hold that “things” have on us? After all, that’s part of Living a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. Your pure heart, illumined by the Holy Spirit, was a sacred vessel of resplendent prophecy, for you did see things far off as close at hand. Hence we revere you, blest Nahum most glorious.