Yesterday it was the turn of Father Nicholas to preach and he delivered a great homily on the need to dedicate ourselves entirely to Christ. He text was the Gospel reading in which the pharisees attempt to trap Jesus by asking if it is right to pay tax. Jesus demanded a coin and asked whose image it bore. When they replied “Caesar’s!” he famously told them “render unto Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s”
Many preachers make the mistake, Fr Nicholas told us, of imagining Jesus is accepting a necessary divide. That there are some things worldly and others divine. Each meriting service. Leading to the common practice today of living in the world and coming to church rather than being the church living in the world. Fr Nicholas then asked which of us neatly divides life/attitude/ behaviour into two separate areas labeled “church” and “rest of life”. And if we did this without caring we should get up and get out! It is just not Christian.
Think about it harder, he urged. And see how Jesus was being far cleverer that we think. Because the reality of taxation is that it is all an enormous confidence trick. There may be winners and losers within the system but the system itself takes more than it gives. Caesar, that is the civic realm, is dependent on the people he does not, in truth, provide a single thing for them that isn’t first taken from them.
Meaning, rather obviously, that Caesar gives nothing. He takes. Where God has given the world we inhabit, the resources we use, the life we enjoy, the air we breathe. Back to Jesus clever quip then and we see that in rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s – we owe NOTHING AT ALL. But in rendering to God what is God’s – we owe EVERYTHING! What a brilliant point and what a sermon it was!
Because so much of what is threatening the faith today does stem from misplaced confidence in the philosophy of the world. Just ponder the recent synod where the call for change was due to the prevailing attitude within Caesar’s realm at this current time! Has the world changed its view regarding the sexual act- surely the church must catch up or be denounced. Has the world accepted serial monogamy in preference to lifelong marriage – well the church better embrace the change or risk falling out of favour. Do Africans dare stand against Caesar’s thinking- disregard them entirely and call them primitive…Yes even lunatic Cardinals are to be found dancing along to this seductive tune. For life is more comfortable when you go with the flow. Rendering to Caesar what is God’s in the process.
We cannot live with one foot in the church and the other in the world, horse trading morals to balance the two. It leads only to a compromised version of divine revelation. What God calls for- what we see again and again in the lives of the Saints- is total fidelity. A total surrendering of the will to God . A total rejection of sin. It is hard. We balk. But that is what holiness is about. And anything less than total self giving is to render less to God than He calls for.
The church is living through a crisis. In truth little to do with sex -though our culture can think of little else as it pushes for a relaxing historic teaching in pursuit of the goals of the sexual revolution. No the crisis is centred on loss of true holiness of life, the total giving of self to God. The comfort of the modern world has won many souls including those in the church. So that even the bishops- those called to be guardians of faith- are found leading lives of compromise and corruption. As tales of abuse and adultery make clear.
The cure to this seeping wound in the body of Christ is not to make the sins MORE acceptable. And stating this does not negate the need for mercy, forgiveness and fresh starts. No the cure is to reject the world in favour of the Gospel. To turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. To stop rendering to Caesar what he has no right to demand and stand up for Jesus and the faith he revealed. Why is this very obvious point so difficult for some to accept. Yes even those in pointy hats?!