Following from last night’s post, the passage in Matthew 22 that comes after the Parable of the Wedding Feast is that famous story where the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus by asking if it’s right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus proves himself the master:
‘Shew me the tribute money.’ And they brought unto him a penny [denarius].* And he saith unto them, ‘Whose is this image and superscription?’
They say unto him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then saith he unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:19-21, KJV)
Many people have written various political theologies based on that final verse. I’m not into political theology, even when it’s not missing the point.
Instead, reading this in light of Chrysostom’s golden oratory on the Parable of the Wedding Feast, the emphasis does not come out on politics. Caesar is, in fact, completely sidestepped. The emphasis falls on the second part:
unto God the things that are God’s.
To prove that a denarius is property of Caesar, Jesus takes one in his hand and points out that the image and superscription are those of the princeps.**
What, on those terms, is God’s?
This is the real question, isn’t it? Not, ‘Should we pay taxes?’ But, ‘What are we to give to God?’
And one thing springs immediately to mind when we ask what bears God’s image:
The human person.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (KJV)
Render unto God the things that are God’s?
That means the entirety of your self. You, by nature, by substance, are made in the image and likeness of the Creator God. This has many implications, including which: You are his.
How shall we render unto God today?
Prayer, scripture-reading, worship, thoughts of him, acts of mercy and compassion to strangers, friends, family, forgiving others, honouring our parents, prayer.
Somehow, we need to join the mystics, join Br Lawrence, in surrendering every moment of every day. Then, whether we’re doing taxes (rendering unto the Queen …) or eating breakfast or singing Psalms, we will be rendering unto God the things that are God’s.
*Fun non-Bible-related fact: The old abbrev. for ‘penny/pence’ is ‘d’ or ‘D’ because of this translation of denarius as penny.
**Awkward moment averted since the denarius had a Caesar on it. Imagine: ‘Whose is the image and superscription?’ ‘Mark Antony’s.’ ‘Well, then … render unto … Caesar? … the things that are Mark Antony’s??’