“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. Matthew 22:21
What are the things we worship? For what or whom do we live our lives?
The Pharisees challenge Jesus about taxes and he asks to see a coin. Taking the coin, he asks them in Saint Matthew Chapter 22 Verse 20, “Whose is this image and superscription?” In some translations the Greek word “Kaisaros” is translated as “emperor”, but that translation loses something of the meaning that the word would have had for many people in Jesus’ time. For many Roman citizens, Caesar was not merely a king or an emperor, Caesar had the status of a god; the coin represented not just money, it represented an object of reverence, an object of worship even, behind that money.
Of course, we are far too sophisticated to imagine that the person represented by the coin could be someone we might worship, someone for whom we might live our lives, but do we live our lives for the other things that money might represent?
When we think about the things to which we devote our money, do we ever think about how they can easily become ends in themselves? Our house, or our car, or our land, or our electronic goods, or our holidays, or, maybe, other things – do these things become the things for which we live? Do they become the idols behind the money as much as, for some, Caesar was the idol pictured on the coins? In the Sermon on the Mount, in Saint Matthew Chapter 6 Verse 21, Jesus warns people, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. Jesus gives an unmistakeable warning that the things we really worship are those to which we devote our money.
Perhaps it is not the things that money can buy that matter, perhaps it is money itself. Jesus tells the parable of the rich man in Saint Luke Chapter 12 who was not interested in using his wealth in any way other than to accumulate more wealth. In Chapter 12 Verse 18, the rich man says, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods”. The rich man worships Mammon in its purest form, money for money’s sake; wealth for wealth’s sake.
How many people are there who have riches beyond the imagination of most people, but who still do not have enough? How many people are there whose life is devoted to an ever increasing salary, an ever improving bottom line, ever growing profits, ever accumulating wealth? The gap between the richest and the poorest in our world is greater than at any time in history, yet the worship of Mammon demands that there must be more and more and more. Perhaps the worship of money itself is an even more powerful form of idolatry than the desire for the things that money represents.
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Do we give God what is rightfully his? Is he the focus of our worship?
I heard a question asked recently as to how people become aware of the presence of God when they come to church. It was a question to which I had never given any thought because I had always assumed that God’s presence was not something we found externally, not something that came to us through architecture, or music, or liturgy, or preaching or prayer, but was something that we felt in our hearts; something encouraged by being in church, but not something that depended on the church.
Doesn’t rendering to God the things that are God’s demand that our response is not just the outward things, but that it is offering him ourselves? Saint Paul preaches to the people of Athens in Acts Chapter 17 Verse 28 that God is the one in whom“we live, and move, and have our being.” If God is such a God, then all we have and are belong to him and offering him our lives is to give him what is already his.
Do we render to God what is God’s? What does that mean in our lives each week? Is it a matter of just attending worship each week? Shouldn’t it be something far more? Isn’t it about the whole way we live our lives? Isn’t it about the way we think? Isn’t it about the way we speak? Isn’t about the things we do? Can we honestly say we have rendered to God the things that are God’s if our life from Monday to Saturday is something very different from our life for an hour on a Sunday morning?
“Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” says Jesus to the Pharisees in Saint Matthew Chapter 22 Verse 18. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because their behaviour has not matched their preaching, their actions have not matched their words. “Render to God the things that are God’s”, says Jesus to the Pharisees and he would say it to us. Do our failings mean that those looking at us might say to us, “ye hypocrites”?
Do we live our lives for the things money can buy? Do we live our lives for money itself? Or do we live our lives for God, and for what a life lived for him brings to us?