Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’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.
There are three ways a person comes to possess anything. (1) He can work for it. (2) It could be a free gift from another person. (3) Or it could be taken by theft. The first two proceed from our common humanity: Love and work. The law of love says that a gift, say of money, or some form of wealth, as an expression of affection. The law of work says wealth may be gained through some sort of labor. Theft, the third way, violates both laws. The thief doesn’t love the person he steals from and he violates the law of labor by taking that which he didn’t earn.
There are at least two kinds of theft. The first is what the Prayer Book calls “picking and stealing”: theft as undisciplined impulse. The impulse to swipe or snatch whatever we desire. The second theft, identified in the Prayer Book, is the most systemically destructive: the planned, cold-hearted theft of failing to be true and just in all our dealings. The refusal to be true and just destroys families, parishes, dioceses, and nations.
People make mistakes. Christians try to learn from errors and sin. These are life-long pursuits that require our cooperation with God. We are learning how not to lie to God, to ourselves and to one another. We came into this world with disordered appetites and desires — the same disorder that the Scribes and Pharisees exhibit. Our hearts are bent. Their question about paying taxes to Caesar was a trap. If Christ said, “pay the tax,” they could denounce him as a Roman collaborator, while if he spoke against the tax, they could hand him over to Rome as a revolutionary — the very thing they accomplished on Good Friday. Jesus ended the whole matter when he said: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
This morning, rather than focusing on the Pharisees’s question, I want to look at the word “render,” which means, “to restore, to give back” to someone what is rightfully his.” We owe civil authority our prayers and appropriate obedience. That obedience is conditional because there is really no question about what belongs to God. Everything belongs to God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God. Our job is put the matters of life in right order and that has to do with love, work, and rightly “rendering,” to man and God. “Right rendering” is finally determined by what or to whom I give my heart.
I had a friend in High School who played the guitar. He loved to play jazz. Cool jazz. He was the coolest guy ever. He played a black Fender Stratocaster and he wore a black leather jacket. He worked at the local Men’s Shop and since he worked there he wore the coolest cloths in school. And, he was flat-out good looking. His name was Lucius. The girls used to call him “Luscious Lucius.”
After High School Lucius drifted and his life became very complicated and full of deceit. He went from girl to girl, gig to gig, lurching from experience to experience, looking for something he needed but couldn’t name. The cherry-faced young boy, who was so gifted, turned jaded and cynical. And then something happened. An old girlfriend came home from college and went to see him. She had fallen in with a group of Christians and committed her life to Christ. And she wanted to share her new life with Lucius.
He was so ready. Lucius poured his heart out to his old friend. They prayed and Lucius – cool, guitar-playing, flat-out good-looking Lucius – met the compassionate, resurrected Lord of the Universe and that changed him forever. He started going to Church. His life began to make sense. He made new friends and he learned how to pray. He was really happy.
And then about two years later he remembered something that threatened his new life. He talked to his priest and made a decision. He went down to Shoemaker’s Men’s Shop and found Mr. Shoemaker. They went to his office in the back of the shop. They sat down in the timeworn, leather chairs that Lucius remembered from high school. Old Mr. Shoemaker was happy to see Lucius. He had grown to love him. They talked a while and then Lucius, having worked up his courage, began weeping. He could hardly get the words out. “I have a confession to make,” he said. “While I worked for you, I stole from you. I think it was about $2000.00 worth of clothing. I want you to know that I’m very sorry. This is killing me. Please forgive me.” Then Lucius pulled out of his wallet $2000.00 and handed it to old Mr. Shoemaker, who, at this point, had tears in his eyes as well. Now, I want to ask a question: Do you think that Lucius was serious about his relationship with Jesus? Yes indeed! And why do we believed Lucius when he said, “I’m sorry?” I know why and you do too. Because it cost him. In a small way, this is what being crucified with Christ looks like.
Now listen, just as one may steal from others, one may also steal from God. But Jesus showed us another way:
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over…
When it comes to giving your resources for Christ’s work, when it comes to stopping to help someone, when it comes to making things right, when it would be easier to simply go on your way, this biblical principles applies: “He who saves his life will lose it, while he who loses his life will save it.”
How we render time, talents and purse is the measure of our commitment to Jesus. There are those who render their wealth for others. Such is the imitation of Christ, who gives freely. If you’ve never given your heart to Jesus or if you need to do it again, why not make today the day you say, “Yes,” to the One who gave his life for you?