Scripture is very clear this Sunday. Only God deserves our worship and not our self-made idols. It don't matter what our modern day idols are: celebrities, political candidates, sport stars or wealth. It does not deserve our worship or adoration.
The world of religion is often divided from the secular world. That is nothing new. The clash between religion and the secular state is therefore not new. The story of the Christian West is largely a history of this conflict. For the first few centuries of its existence, Christianity was harshly persecuted by the state, leaving in its wake a bloody trail of martyrs. All that changed with the conversion of the emperor Constantine.
Soon Christianity became the state religion. Now the boot was on the other foot. After the 16th century the Church lost a lot of it's influence. The state has been clawing back the ground once claimed by the church and the church has reluctantly gave up the previous influence.
Today’s gospel, with its famous “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” has a particular importance in our world. While the principle is clear, it’s practical application in certain circumstances is a different case. It is not so simple when the world clashing. Things are complex in our world. As believers we need to show Christian behavior in all circumstances. No matter how deeply our convictions are, we must never resort to hate and violence. Which include of course intimidation and violence of the tongue. Muscular crusades, in the past or in our days, cause irreparable harm. We live in a world of pluralism where others think different than us, believe different than us and live different than us. There are others whose principles and beliefs differ radically from ours. To regulate that is up to the state. We as Christians should not be too much involved in that, as we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and not of the world. We only need to work on our Christian virtues and persevere in it. And that is always a gentle art. We persevere our Christian lives the best when we remember “not to let go down the sun on our anger”. We should not lower ourselves to name calling, insulting or humiliate people that not of our choice. That is an unchristian attitude.
We hear a kind of dramatic account in the Gospel. The question put to Jesus, as to whether it was permissible for Jews to pay tribute to Caesar. That is a question also asked to us. And we have to listen carefully to Jesus’s answer. But first it gives a clear insight into the minds of the Pharisees. They wanted to entrap Jesus, a political trap. And we know political traps because we see it every days (within every political party). Politicians use traps to come into the favor of the ones that need to support them. Politics is not an gently business. They wanted to set Jesus at odds with the Roman authorities or worse… to discredit him before his own people. At first they try to please as whether they would have regards for his opinion as a teacher. But than the big questions comes out: “tell us what is your own opinion? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
If he would say, “Pay the tax,” he would be accused of collaboration with the Roman oppressors. Were he to advocate non-payment, he could be arrested for sedition by the Roman authorities. Jesus’ response however is: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,”. He left them dumbfounded behind. But in a way he left it in the middle. Because it did not touch the subject of the Roman ruling Israel nor does it specify “what is Gods” neither “what is Caesars”. The opposing claims of God and state were left to be decided by the conscience of each individual. And that is still the case today. However Jesus warned us about this subject in other parts of the Gospel. When speaking his famous Sermon on the Mount he says: “no one can serve two masters; one cannot be the slave, of both God and wealth” (Mt 6:24). It is up to us to choose who we want to serve: “God or Caesar”. Or if you want God or Nation, God or President, God or Flag, God or Government, God or employer, God or the leader of your country?
We should not forget that the world and all its resources were created by God for the benefit of all human beings without exception. God didn’t create border, we did. God didn’t create nations and politics, we did. It is the task of government to seek balance between policies that will help the common good of all the citizens. It is our task as Christians, to serve God and his kingdom, and nothing can should come before that. Not even your country, your flag, your president or the elections. We as Christians should always keep in mind the Gospel and love each other no matter what. We should never sink so deep that we become one with the world. We should never turn to violence or hate, in word or in deed. We need to choose between God or “Caesar” (government, politics, leadership). What is it going to be? The decision is up to you and to me. But it is a decision that will determine our eternity as well. Amen.