Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24), 2020.
“Render therefore,” Our Lord Jesus teaches us, “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The meaning of this teaching, and how the meaning guides how we live as followers of Christ, is the subject of our eucharistic fellowship this day. We do well to begin this reflection by noting how the Pharisees are described by Saint Matthew as interpreting and responding to the teaching. For when they heard Our Lord’s teaching, they marveled; and they left Him and went away. They crossed swords, and Jesus was the victor.
Now, I am so often to point out how important awe and wonder are to the Christian life—how “fear” in the Scriptures usually means awe and wonder, so that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” means “awe and wonder in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”—I do that so often that I feel a responsibility to point out that this is not one of those moments. The marveling of the Pharisees is not them thrown into religious awe of the God Who is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. Their marveling is rather the feeling of being bested in a duel of wits. They, S. Matthew reminds us, were trying to entangle Jesus in His talk, so that they would have grounds to arrest Him. Jesus did not give them any kind of incriminating testimony. What He said violated no Jewish law or religious custom, or sounded seditious towards the Romans. The Pharisees marveled that Jesus was able to outwit them once again.
But if that is all this episode means, then S. Matthew would not have included it in his account of the Gospel. All details included in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, along with that of Mark, Luke and John’s accounts of the Gospel, not to tell a biographical documentary of the life of Jesus, but rather to provide the food which if properly received reveals Jesus the Son of Mary as also the Son of God the Father Almighty. Being a sharp thinker that wins a dual of wits hardly shows this man to be raised up by God, having loosed the pains of death. Showing Himself to teach the virtue of paying your taxes says absolutely nothing about how God has made this Jesus, whom we crucify, both Lord and Christ. These are pedestrian interpretations. The words of Saint John in chapter 20 of his Gospel account speak for all the evangelists: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.” It is for that purpose that Matthew tells us of Jesus saying, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”—that by eating this bread in prayer, Christ the eternal Word of God may be revealed to us in our very presence.
Saint Paul helps us to see past the pedestrian interpretations. This is not surprising because Paul is a great teacher of the Christian faith. Paul praises the church in Thessalonica by relaying to them the report he had heard from others about them, how they “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, Jesus Who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Paul here teaches nothing but what the Lord Jesus taught in His life, even about the coin with the face of Caesar. The Pharisees, who are described in the Gospel accounts as “lovers of money,” are made an example by Jesus to His disciples of idolaters. Looking at money with the eyes of the flesh makes us greedy and makes money into an idol. Looking at money with the eyes of Christ, on the other hand, reveals money has being made by God and therefore to be offered to God, despite whatever surface images may be on the money’s outward design.
All things are made by Christ; without Christ is not anything made. Christians know this as a pillar of the Faith. We know we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. We are to love Him with all we have, for all we have has been given to us by Him, without Whom we can do nothing that is good. We know our offerings to God are to be the offerings not of Cain (who merely offered some of his fruits and vegetables) but of Abel—the firstborn of our flock and of their fat; our offering is that of Saint Mary Magdalene expensive jar and still more expensive spikenard. And our offering is the offering of Saint Paul—for we offer and present unto God our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Christ—that we may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and being thereby in Him, may be Him to the world around us, carrying the peace of Christ and offering it to all we meet.