Saturday, November 10, 2012

Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

Phil.3:17-21  *  Matt. 22:15-22

Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

            How should we approach these words of Jesus? Was this a mere witty response that silenced His enemies? Was it merely a clever way to get them to shut up? Or, do we recognize that he spoke no idle words, but meant what He said? How do we approach these words then? Should it be both in light of Who Jesus is and in the context of His entire body of teaching?      
            It is difficult to know how to apply them. What was Caesar after all? The same problems we find in answering this question are also inherent in living by the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Church in Rome, where the Apostle wrote that Christians ought to obey the authorities, be law abiding citizens and pay taxes.     
            You may ask, why do I say this is a problem? The answer is because Caesar was a conqueror and a tyrant. It was not long before Caesar persecuted the Church, and made it illegal even to be a Christian. His law was not God’s law, and man’s law never is.
            What, then do we render unto Caesar, especially if we have to render unto God the things that are God’s? So often, the state requires that we offer to the government the things that belong solely to God, even our very consciences. How, then must we see these words of Jesus?
            The answer is, of course, in the context of His entire body of teaching. That includes His Summary of the Law:

THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matt, 22:37-40, Lev. 19:18, Deut. 6:5).

            This is part of what you should have learned for Confirmation. Of the Ten Commandments we say there are two tables. The first table contains four commandments to love God. The second table contains six commandments to love your neighbor. It is a principle of studying that part of the Law, or those commandments, called the Moral Law, that every moral commandment is really a way of obeying the true and deeper meaning of the Ten; that the Summary of the Law summarizes them in their truest meaning. The ultimate Rabbi for expounding on the full meaning of the Moral Law is our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is.
            According to this method we draw fuller meaning from the commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Our catechism develops this theme as follows (we teach this to everyone for Confirmation, so I trust the words are familiar to you):

“Question. What dost thou chiefly learn by these Commandments?
    Answer. I learn two things; my duty towards God, and my duty towards my Neighbour.
    Question. What is thy duty towards God?
    Answer. My duty towards God is To believe in him, to fear him, And to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength: To worship him, to give him thanks: To put my whole trust in him, to call upon him: To honour his holy Name and his Word: And to serve him truly all the days of my life.
    Question. What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?
    Answer. My duty towards my Neighbour is To love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the civil authority: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt nobody by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men's goods; But to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.”

            Obedience to the authorities, to the law of the land, is a duty that comes from the obligation to love your neighbor. Disorder, chaos and crime are against not only your God, but your neighbor.
            But, this is why it seems strange to apply these thoughts to a thuggish regime like that of the Roman Empire. The obvious problem is, sometimes we must choose between God and Caesar. I don’t mean choose between a dubious, sectarian or cultish teaching and the government; I mean between God and human authority.
            The case for civil disobedience was made by St. Peter:
 “Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:25-29).”
          For a Christian, notice the choice. When human authorities make it impossible for you to avoid the choice, you render unto God the things that are God’s, and accept the consequences for the sake of Christ Himself. This is why Christians have often endured persecution from the authorities in various times and places.
          This is not a being a rebel without a cause. It is not walking on the grass because the sign said to “keep off the grass.” In fact, it is not being a rebel at all. When you make the choice to obey God rather than men, you are loving God and loving your neighbor the only way left open to you. “render unto God the things that are God’s.”
          You are also following Christ and taking up the cross.

1 comment:

Mr. Mcgranor said...

The Magna Carta made public servants yeild to their master.