Sometime ago, a priest was urgently called to attend to one of the members of his parish who was critically down with a severe heart condition. The priest in question was just trying to catch a nap after a very hectic day in the office when the call came. Duty calls! He had to drop the siesta he had planned on a rain check and briskly dressed to attend to the man who was conceivably heading to the city beyond the humans.
The man was looking as critical as his condition. He actually found it hard to breathe. His wife sat beside him answering all the questions on behalf of the ailing man. The priest found the room very stuffy with some fresh pungent odour stagnated in the mid-air. He urgently asked that the windows be opened up. His directive was carried out immediately as if it was a sacred part of what he came to do.
While the priest was about beginning the prayers, there came this sudden rush of a strong wind; the type that precedes a torrential down pour. It was so much that everything and everybody in the bedroom reacted to it even the sick man who had been motionless readjusted by himself. The most dramatic reaction was that of the frame of the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which was sitting on a table and resting on the wall. The wind undid the balance of the picture frame and sent it flying across the room. One of the attendants to the man was skilful enough to catch it before it could crash on the floor. However, the picture was covering what took the breath of the pious priest whose spirituality is known to be very much above average. The exit of the picture revealed a local pot (calabash) skilfully beautified with white and red strips of clothes and some feathers of one of the wild birds; may be vulture. There were still other strange things like white chalks and lizards inside the pot which confirmed itself as the source and origin of the pungent odour.
The priest was speechless, overwhelmed, confused, harassed, disappointed and upset at the same time. For a while, he thought of proceeding but on a second thought he gave up the idea. He felt (and rightly too) that administering the sacrament before the “shrine” would make a ridicule of the holy act he came to perform. The room went dead silent, only the rushing wind and the odour from the pot could be perceived. In that rage, the priest announced that he would have to leave and when the family gets ready they should call him.
As the priest was leaving, the wife of the man went after him begging and most significantly she said: “Father please we are just making effort to give to Caesar what is his own and to God what is due to Him” The priest did not answer her because THE CAESAR’S AND GOD’S THING issue would mean engaging her in a long talk which he was not ready to do at that sober moment. He left them and it was quite unfortunate that the man died before the sun rose the next day. I was particularly shocked by the entire episode having witnessed the whole drama from the beginning while accompanying the priest in question to the man’s house as a young seminarian on apostolic work.
The biblical statement: “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s is often used by many and most time arbitrarily. From the story that began our reflection, the wife of the sick man may have thought that the statement implies soliciting the help and assistance of a witch doctor as well as that of a priest when faced with a critical situation like the one the family faced. Obviously the services of a witch doctor preceded the invitation of the priest as the wind revealed. There is every reason for us to understand this highly misrepresented passage very accurately this Sunday and also work with that knowledge.
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt.22:15-21) we are told that there was a conspiracy against our Lord Jesus Christ which was instigated by the Pharisees often called hypocrites by our Lord himself. A team that was made up of Pharisees and Herodians was formed to approach Jesus with a question. The two groups represented too extremes. The Pharisees were religious extremists while the Herodains favoured secularism. Now the question they asked our Lord was also double barrelled each touching each of the members of the team and opposing the other. The intention was to make our Lord take a side so that the other side would attack him. The question which was preceded by some form of flattery was: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is obviously a yes or no answer question. If he says yes he would please the Herodians and offend the Pharisees and the reverse will be the case if he says no.
Our Lord knew that they set a snare for him. He is obviously wiser than them so he asked for a coin and looking at it he asked them whose inscription was there and they said that of Caesar and so he said to them: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. The first and most important question we need to ask is: “what are the things that belong to Caesar and what are the things that belong to God?” To answer this question very well, we need to look into the portfolios of these contending phenomena: Caesar and God.
Tiberius Caesar was born in 42 BC. He began to rule as the emperor of Rome in 14 AD and concluded with his sudden death in the month of March 37 AD. He was a mean ruler and the entire Roman Empire was under his rule. He was despotic and ruthless. We heard about him first in the bible when John the Baptist began to preach in the wilderness and that was during the fifteenth year of his reign. (Luke 3:1ff). That means after then he ruled for another twenty-two years. He was very demanding and imposed taxes through the governors of the various province he ruled just as his predecessor and step Father Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1). Let us pry closely to see what actually belonged to him:
- The Roman Empire at the time of his reign with all the provinces. Because he could not be everywhere he made use of governors like Pontius Pilate
- The proceeds from the taxes in all the provinces (actually only a certain percentage came to him as the kings and governors collected their percentages through the tax collectors who were not saints either).
Enough of Tiberius. Now talking about God nobody can tell when He was born. In fact He has no beginning and would have no end. God is the King that is above all kings including Tiberius. The reign of Tiberius ended in 37 AD but God reign has no end. Furthermore there was no time God was not reigning He has always being reigning and would continue to reign for ever; he has no predecessor and would not have any successor. Let us look at what belongs to God:
- The whole world.
- Everything in the world.
- All kingdoms of the world belongs to Him
- In fact what belongs to God is everything and by that outlook Tiberius Caesar has nothing.
From the analysis above one can see that there is no match at all between Caesar and God. However what our Lord said implies that we should not fail to carry out civic and social responsibilities but they should not in any way replace our religious obligations. But what we get in our day and age is people giving excess to Caesar and leaving God empty handed. Imagine how much money people spend taking care of their bodies and houses and how much time they give to their souls’ nourishment.
There is no doubt that we often prefer Caesar to God; in fact we often take what belongs to God and give to some Caesars in our lives. The Caesars here represents those things that stands in opposition to us when it comes to our relationship with God. They stand for those things that consume our time and resources to the detriment of what we owe God. There are obviously many Caesars around us and we ought to make effort to revive and reconsider our dues to God.
God indeed owns everything; both the Caesars and all their kingdoms are under God’s mighty power. In the First Reading (Isaiah 45:1.4-6) we are presented with this fact. God made Cyrus the Persian king to be powerful. He gave him all he needed to subdue nations and kings. He gave him his first name and his surname. In all, Cyrus didn’t know that God was directing his actions. He was the king that ended the Babylonian captivity of the people of Israel and had them return to their land. He assisted in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and returned all the vessels that were taken away. This confirms the fact that all authority comes from God and belongs to Him too. (Romans 13:1).
As we enter into this new week, let us remember that God’s due must be given to him just as we give to the Caesars around us. Let us also know that nothing should take the place of God. Furthermore, giving to Caesar and to God does not mean compromising our faith in God with mundane concerns. May the grace of God be sufficient for us as we give render unto Him what belongs to Him.
Have a graceful week.