Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Rendering to Caesar and to God

Emperor Tiberius Tribute Coin via Wikimedia
In Matthew 22: 15-22 we have the wonderful incident where Jesus confounds the Pharisees who set out to trap Him with the question, "Tell us therefore what dost thou think, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" Jesus takes control of their narrative with his divine answer, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's."

As a small child I was completely in awe of how Our Lord escaped their trap. I still am. He was surrounded by evil pressing in on Him, and not for the first time by a long shot. Yet He had no fear and showed all of us how to triumph over those who would tie us firmly to the vision of worldly power alone. He drew attention to the fact that Caesar has earthly power, but that God also requires a rendering quite apart from what is owed to Caesar. And what is it to be rendered to God?

St. Hilary of Poitiers says “We are bound to render unto God the things of God; our body, soul, and will; for the coin of Cæsar is in gold, in which his image is engraven; but God’s coin is man, in whom is the image of God.”

St. Bernard of Clairveaux says, “Render unto Cæsar the penny which has Cæsar’s image; render unto God the soul which He created after His own image and likeness, and ye shall be righteous.”

What belongs to Caesar is perishable, consumable, able to be destroyed, and of only temporary value. What belongs to God is of eternal value, imperishable, unable to be destroyed. This alone should show us how to think about what Caesar demands of us and how we should respond, where our priorities of choice should lie, why Caesar lacks the power to authorize the killing of the innocent of any age or to attempt to reign in our God-given liberties of conscience. When Caesar tries to invade God's territory, he has gone way out of bounds and we, who belong to God, must recognize our nobility of being by virtue of being created in His image and likeness, and act on it. Moreover, what is true of us is true of every human being on earth, even Caesar who will one day face his own reckoning with his Creator.

Our Lady of Fatima asked the three children to pray for poor sinners so they do not go to hell. Indeed, in praying for them we are praying for the coin of God, that it be returned to Him and placed in His treasury of the saints forever.


  1. Beautiful post, Barbara.

    I, too, was and remain, in awe of the way Jesus handled that tricky question.

    God Bless.

  2. Thanks, Michael. I've puzzled over that passage for years.