Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Secret Twist in "Render Unto Caesar"

If you've always taken "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto God what is God's" as either 1) a cool debate trick used by Jesus to flummox his adversaries or 2) a breaking of the world into temporal and spiritual spheres, then you might want to listen to this and reflect what is covered in "render unto God what is God's."

The transcript today is just my notes. Sorry, I have the flu. 

p. 65

Pretty famous: render unto Caesar 

recent Books: Archbishop Chaput

Monday of Holy Week

Already come in on Palm Sunday, Hosanna to Son of David, cleansed Temple

Throw down with Pharisee and Sadducees 

Threatening parables: vineyard, wedding feast

Then their questions: know his teaching and personality, so try to make hypotheticals where it seems he either has to go against the Torah or go against his previous statements

Or even go against the civil roman authorities 

Taxes, resurrection, greatest commandment, woman caught in adultery

Odd set up: Herodians
Politically shifty, compromise 

Pharisees: allied more with zealots
Hate Herod, hate Rome, nothing but Jewish national rule 

Major threat if together

Census tax:

Either against Jewish self rule 

Or against rome and Caesar 

Remember the charge: insurrection 

Pilate would've let go except 

Smarmy <read>


Butter him up and give one or other answer, both of which they think will condemn him

Show me the coin

Genius: like greatest command, woman, by what authority

Skips over their supposed dilemma: What about this?

What does this have to do with anything

Give answer: Return to Caesar 

Everyone marvels

Take for granted this was brilliant

But lots more to it than this


Coin has an image

King, emperor, local God


But that word, icon, is what the first commandment says you cannot have: "you shall have no graven images" 

Why are there moneychangers in the temple?

Why are there tables for Jesus to flip over the day before?

It's not a question of changing Roman coins into Jewish coins because of the exchange rate, it's because all coins come in with images graven in them

Often times the kings themselves said they were gods of some sort

You can't go and buy a turtledove or a goat to sacrifice with coins with graven images

Everybody comes into Jerusalem with a pocketful of idolatry 

And so they have to go to the money changers and trade their Caesar coins for —aniconic, non-iconic coins— temple shekels because God has no icons, no image

So with this as background, Jesus's words don't make sense:

Give to Caesar what's caesars, literally what bears his image, his coin. 

But give to God what is God's what bears his image? But what bears his image? Nothing does! 

But something does bear God's image, doesn't it?

It's not a coin

Not a statue or temple

Think back to Genesis 1

What is the one thing that bears God's image? 

It's you.

So when J says give to Caesar what is Caesar's, give him what has his image—this stupid coin

Then he's saying give to God what bears his image—you 

Give him your whole self

So it's not just that Jesus slip through their trap,

But is making a huge point

I don't care much what you do with your money: Caesar, king of Persia, or dump in a well

Give to God what looks like God


Give him your whole life

Your time 

Your breath

Your exertion 

Later in this chapter they'll ask him what is the greatest commandment 

He'll answer: love the lord

SAME THING: Render to God what bears God'a image. 

So it's not just a nifty rhetorical move or a cool debate counterattack that saves him from the Roman but also doesn't tick off the Jewish nationalists, 

He has gone deeper,

Like he does with the question of forgiveness with the woman caught in adultery

He's gone deeper and said:

The material stuff, the worldly stuff, the civic stuff is secondary to the question of where are our hearts, where are our lives, going?

A year ago as we prepared for our stewardship renewal I reflected on this when I preached on the idea that: 

"Nothing I have is mine. Not my breath. Not my thoughts. Not my talents. Not even my dreams and wishes."

Nothing is my own. Everything comes from God. 

So the real message of today's gospel isn't that Jesus is a first-rate debate champion, but that he wants us to recognize that everything we are and we have is God's, and that as we return our taxes to Caesar, we need to return ourselves to the Lord. 

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