“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s”

In regards to the above quote from Luke 20:20, which was Jesus Christ’s response to the question, “Should we, pious children of God, pay a tax to upkeep a pagan, idolatrious government?” Jesus understood the unresolved conflict of a human being both being a resident of the City of Man and a member of the City of God. We dwell in the City of Man, but we are made for the City of God. The issue, then, is what to do when the demands of the City of Man conflict with the demands of the City of God?

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the resolution is clear — obey the laws of the City of Man or, in the extreme cases when that is morally *impossible* — accept the punishment enacted in civilly disobeying those laws. This is not an easy resolution, with much sacrifice of not only pursuit of happiness (like a job or education or ensuring your children’s future) and liberty (narrowing your choices to only *one* inevitable thing), but also your life. Jesus is the paragon for such sacrifice, and Martin Luther King Jr., being a disciple and minister of His teaching, understood this as well. “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (Jn 15:18).

What the Jeffersonian understanding of human rights (inalianable rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and to change one’s form of government when it abuses those rights) makes clear is that 1) it comes from a Creator God, and 2) it is what gives us our power against any human injustice — whether from an individual, a party, a counsel, a king, a tyrant, or a mob — because nothing in the City of Man can take those rights — our rights as citizens of the City of God — away from us.
“No slave is greater than his master” (Jn 15:16).

Certainly Jesus was not a proto-Jeffersonian — different historical context (Judea in the last Roman Empire), different geography, different conflicting religions (a shattered Judaism and an increasingly utilitarian Roman paganism). But He makes clear that a human being born in this world must live in this world until his/her time to leave it for the City of God, and live with others around him/her following the Greatest Commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:38, 39). How to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind *and* love your neighbor as yourself? And, implicit in that, how do you love yourself? Certainly you love yourself by ensuring your life, your liberty, your pursuit of happiness, understanding that these are gifts from God and should not be wasted, should not be abused. And, certainly, this is not easy. And when he/ she sees abuses of those rights in the City of Man, lovingly he/ she must rectify those abuses, but, certainly, this is not easy.

Said Dr. King on April 16, 1963, “We should not forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s anti-religious laws.” ([“Letter from Birmingham Jail.” _Patterns for College Writing_ eds. Kirszner and Mandell, New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004; 576]).

It would be beautiful if the the City of Man and the City of God were perfectly reconciled, in perfect harmony, if the sacred and the eternal and the secular and temporal were in seamless harmony, the latter in concert with the former. But such a harmony has not been seen since Eden, and yet this world is a beautiful place, despite the chasm between the City of Man and the City of God. No form of government in all of the City of Man’s history has ever healed that chasm, for that chasm, ultimately, lies not in what’s out there but within the heart of man himself: loving God with all of your heart, soul, and mind is the first of the Greatest Commandments, and, even with the mediation of just and moral human institutions, fulfilling that commandment, truly, is between man and God: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46).

So, truly live in the City of Man — grow, thrive, love, work, marry, raise children, help one another, fight injustice, accept the consequences — while, in your heart, soul, and mind, hope for the City of God, the shining kingdom where we will not be as we were but be “like the angels of heaven” (Mt. 22:30).

Pax et amor. Vale.


About lizardqueen

If single-mothering were a paid job, I'd be rich. However, it doesn't, so I write (which doesn't pay the bills) and teach (which does). I'm overly-educated in the liberal arts, but that doesn't hinder my ability to be pragmatic and realistic. YAY.
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2 Responses to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s”

  1. lizardqueen says:

    Um… hi! Did you read the second paragraph of this blog entry? If you did, then you know that one can disobey the laws of Caesar — if one is willing to accept the punishment under the laws of Caesar.

    After all, even Jesus accepted the punishment passed down by the Roman government, even though his disciples wanted to fight and have him escape.

    On a side note: Really, would Jesus use the phrase “depth of stupidity” to call these people who find themselves “serving two masters” — the Church and the State — or would he say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”?

    Blessed are the peacemakers and all, y’know?

  2. Jesus, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but render unto God what is God’s.

    Inquisitor: “But Jesus, what is God’s and what is Caesar’s?”

    Jesus, “What do the Scriptures say?”

    IQ, “Ah, Psalms 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.”

    Jesus, “You have answered well my child.”

    IQ, “But what then is Caesar’s?”

    Jesus, “The rest is his.”

    IQ, “I don’t get it.”

    Jesus, “Neither does Caesar. But don’t feel bad, Christian-church scholars have misinterpreted these explicit words of mine for 17 centuries, ever since their church was enthralled by Rome and they began to receive a share in the booty. I told them they could only serve one master, but, nooo, they were loyal, patriotic citizens of the State. Even when their other master turned them into tax slaves they remained loyal subjects, if rather subjugated ones. There’s just no accounting for the depth of stupidity among those who try to serve two masters.”


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