For the past couple of weeks, Jesus has spoken to the Pharisees and elders of the people, telling them that, by their actions, others would take their place in God’s Kingdom. First, Jesus spoke of their rejection from the Vineyard of the Lord, and then there was their banishment from the wedding feast. Well today, we hear of their attempt at pay-back. The Pharisees are so furious at Jesus that they enter into an unholy alliance with their enemies, the Herodians, so as to bring him down. And to do so, they used trickery and corruption.
Roman taxes had to be paid with Roman currency. If Jesus had possessed Roman coinage it would have been tantamount to accepting the authority of the Emperor over God’s sovereignty. But it was the Pharisees who drew Caesar’s coinage from their tunic to present to Jesus. This shows us the depth of corruption the religious leaders had sunk to; they preached to the ordinary folk to reject the foreign power over the sovereignty of the Lord, yet by their own lives they had sold out to Rome, personally profiting on their treachery by trading with its currency. What Jesus had suggested of them by way of parables, their disloyalty to God’s Kingdom, they then revealed to be the case by their own actions.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, said Jesus to them; and render unto God what is God’s. For the Pharisees had sold their souls for money and expediency. But what of us? Where do our loyalties lie; what are the priorities by which we might be measured?
Being a Christian does not mean isolating ourselves from the world in which we live. Jesus was quite explicit in saying to his disciples, you are in the world. But our Christian faith also does not mean conforming to the ways of the world in which we live. As Jesus also explicitly said of his disciples, you are not of the world. The mark of a Christian is that we are in, but not of the world. What does this mean? It means we are called to be witnesses to the world of a different kind of living. St Paul described this kind of Kingdom living as faith in action, work for love, and perseverance through hope. The more we live in the world like this, the more it will be transformed into an image of God’s kingdom.
And by ‘our world’ I don’t mean the earth is some generalised way. I mean the world of our family and neighbourhood; the world of social connection and political engagement; the world of labour and leisure; the world of human ecology. That is, the world immediately around us, and the one in which we daily participate. What does it mean to mix the leaven of God’s kingdom into this world in which we live?
In this past week of political upheaval, and as we all look for a just easing of restrictions, we should not miss that Pope Francis has written a letter, Fratelli Tutti, about what it means to be God’s kingdom people in the world around us. We are all familiar with the call for social justice. This is good, and to be commended. But Pope Francis says in his letter that social justice can only be transformative in our world if it is grounded in fraternity and social friendships, that is, in relationships that build bridges, that strive for the good of all, that seek the paths of dialogue rather than competition, and that are committed to reconciliation when harm and discord emerge. Without social friendship, social justice becomes social ideology, and risks selling out to the ways of the world – to Caesar.
So, render yourself unto God, that you live by God’s kingdom in the world.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021