Render unto Caesar, Maerten de Vos, 1602
Transcription Of Audio
A Reading From the Epistle to the Philippians:
Brethren, We are confident in the Lord Jesus, that He who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus. As it is meet for me to think this for you all, for that I have you in my heart, and that in my bands, and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, you are all partakers of my joy. For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding; that you may approve the better things; that you may be sincere and without offense unto the day of Christ: filled with the fruit of justice, through Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.
Continuation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew:
At that time, the Pharisees went and consulted among themselves, how to ensnare Jesus in His speech. And they sent to Him their disciples, with the Herodians, saying: Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker, and teach the way of God in truth, neither care Thou for any man, for Thou dost not regard the person of men. Tell us therefore, what dost Thou think? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But Jesus knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt Me, ye hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute. And they offered Him a penny. And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and superscription is this? They say to Him: Caesar’s. Then He saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God.
We see in this passage of St. Matthew this conflict between these already-at-odds parties, Christ and the Pharisees, but the Pharisees have joined ranks with their enemies, the Herodians. So they decided that these worldly traitorous Herodians, who are supporting an illegitimate king and were united with the Romans in order to secure their own position, their social position, that these would be worthy allies as long as Christ was their common enemy.
And then, we see some almost spiritual terminology which, on the face is spiritual but at the heart is actually sacrilegious. They are disciples. Μαθητὰς, mathitás, were sent to test Jesus. What is a disciple? A disciple means one open to learning. It implies humility and a radical openness to learning the ways of God. And so these anti-disciples go to the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ Himself, and they say, We know that thou art the true speaker and teachest the way of God in truth. So their very manifestation of faith is a declaration of war. And then they say, Thou carest not for any man for thou does not regard the person of men. Well, οὐ γὰρ βλέπεις εἰς πρόσωπον ἀνθρώπων “You do not look at the face of men,” is what they said. “You do not look at the face of men.” And that’s a literal translation of what Luke has written there.
And that’s true. Our Lord looks far deeper than the face. Whether somebody has an ugly or appealing face is of no interest to Him. He looks at the soul. His gaze bores into the very identity of the person, something that we’re often blind to because, in our superficiality, we do take into account the face of men. Christ does not regard their faces, but their hearts and their sincerity. And what is He called them? Hypocrites, which is a Greek word for actor; somebody who is something and does something else. So what matters to our Lord is not how they look, not their nice words, but the salvation of their souls. And it says, noticing their malice, πονηρίαν, ponēria, malice wickedness. So seeing their malice, He tries to wake them up to it. He tries to alert them to their own spiritual danger, this precarious situation in which they find themselves without knowing it. And so in His charity, He doesn’t take the bait, in His charity He speaks to them about something far more important than census taxes; He speaks to them about their souls.
When somebody has an internal division and militates for that division, acts against one’s own conscience, that person tends to project that on others. This internal division then becomes a prism, a lens through which they see others. And that’s how they see our Lord, and that’s what they want to project onto Our Lord. They want to separate Him from His mission from, His very identity. They want to test Him and that’s what the word is; πειράζουν : peiratzon. We see both that πονηρίαν and πειράζουν , evil and πειράζουν which is test, temptation, set a trap, you see both of those words in Matthew 6:13 in the Our Father; Lead us not into temptation… πειράζουν …and deliver us from the evil one πονηροῦ, ponēros, the evil one. In here, we see them trying to lead Our Lord into evil, into temptation, at the behest of the evil one.
Whenever Incarnate Wisdom steps forward and manifests itself, there’s an apocalyptic battle that is sure to rage under the appearances of some things haphazard and other things ordinary. St. Paul tells us, that we are not contending against flesh and blood but against principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of this world, of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Yet even under the guise of these guileless disciples of the Herodians and the Pharisees, who would seek wisdom from the impartial Jesus about a census tax in their insincerity, Our Lord turns the conversation from the words to something far deeper and He refers to an image and an epigraph on a coin. (It’s interesting that He doesn’t have a coin on Him.) So He asks for a coin. Somebody shows it to Him and He says, “Whose image is this? Whose epigraph? If it Ceasars, then it belongs to Caesar.” What He’s also saying, without saying it, “…and whose image are you? You have been created in the image and likeness of God, and yet you militate against that. You do violence to yourselves.” Christ doesn’t look at their faces, He looks at their souls, He sees the image and likeness of God, and how sin disfigures that.
We are called to recognize our own image and likeness to God and render it to Him. If the coin belongs to Caesar, we belong to God. In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we see that Christ is called the Image of the Father; the One who is invisible is made visible in His Son, the Firstborn of all creation. In this absolute eternal and consubstantial sense, He has the power to unearth the Divine Image in us under all the rubble of sin and disorder and that’s what He’s going about in this exchange.
This above phrase from Colossians about Christ as the Image, and then here we see the Image referring to the image. So notice that in Genesis, it doesn’t say that we are we are the image and likeness of God, it says we are made according to the Image and Likeness of God. Christ is the Image. He is the standard. And so if we don’t understand ourselves through the prism of Jesus Christ, if we don’t see ourselves, understand ourselves, in that context we don’t understand ourselves correctly. So Christ reveals God to man, but He also reveals man to man. He shows us our true identity in Himself. And He asks us to bore into our souls to discover that, and then live up to it. So this living image of God, in our souls, within us, signifies not only that, we belong to Him by right, to Him because He made us, just as the coin belongs to Caesar, but we are spiritual beings. We don’t live for this world. And anything we have in this world is to be put at service of making it to the next.
We’re all, I think very good at taking means and making ends of them because we like them, or recognizing certain means to eternity, that are onerous and difficult, and eschewing them simply because they’re difficult. But when our Lord brings us back to the awareness of our true identity, His burden becomes light. His yoke becomes easy, if we don’t focus on the yoke and the burden but we focus on Him in whose Image we’ve been created.
This passage doesn’t necessarily end on a triumphant note. We don’t see a collective conversion in the Herodians and the Pharisees. It says they wondered at His words and walked away. They were free to follow Our Lord. They were free to turn their backs. They chose to turn their backs and that doesn’t have to have the last word. Because more important than the exchange of dialogue here is Our Lord’s message for us to return to the truth of who we are in Him; made according to Him as a standard. We are made according to His Image and Likeness.
And so, the banal and even insincere words used by the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ disciples are an occasion for Our Lord to speak about something much more profound. For Him, no subject is too banal, or even perverse, for Him to use it as a springboard to bring us back to the truth of who we are in Him. And may that be so for all of us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
— Fr. Ermatinger