"Render unto Caesar" is the beginning of a phrase spoken by Jesus in the synoptic gospels.

"Render unto Caesar" is the beginning of a phrase spoken by Jesus in the synoptic gospels.


Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are called "synoptic gospels" because they share many of the same, or similar, stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Phrase reads in full, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s." All three synoptic gospels state that hostile questioners tried to trap Jesus into taking an explicit and dangerous stand on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to the Roman authorities.


Why would the religious leaders of the day try to entrap Jesus? It is simple, Jesus was a threat. They enjoyed their positions of power and authority over their fellow Jews, because they were given that authority by the Roman oppressor. The Herod’s, unlike Jesus, were not of the household of David, but were given their authority to be kings by the Romans. The ruling clergy, powerful families, tax collectors, were all gaining wealth and power by working with the Roman authorities. Jesus was different. He had the pedigree to be king. He fit perfectly the biblical, prophetic, blueprint of the Messiah. Jesus was the real thing, they were pretenders.


Jesus came into the world not to establish a secular kingdom for himself, or to keep in power those who made their wealth by practicing tyranny over the people committed to their charge. Rather, Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom, one that brought us into union with God, a kingdom that would be forever. Jesus did not choose to benefit his worldly situation by his teaching, or by his noble birthright, or even because of his personal charisma, instead he came in love to give us something lasting, with a meaning beyond the present and into forever. He came to join the divine to the human, to raise up the fallen, and to mend the broken.


Of course, those who define their value and worth by the world’s assessment will never be able to accept, and have never been able to accept, Jesus as king. They want that position of "lordship" for themselves… Their gods are the idols of their own making, "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:19).


In retrospect, the more things change the more they stay the same, humankind has attempted to kill the Christ when he was a child, as Herod did by killing males two years and younger in Bethlehem, and to destroy him throughout his earthly ministry, and finally on the cross, why? Because we knew exactly who he was. He was a threat. That is still the case. We choose to make Jesus into an idol of our own fashioning, one reflecting ourselves, or we destroy the image within us that threatens our comfort zone, our authority, or power.


When we embrace the ways of the world, and attempt to supplant the teachings Scripture, Reason, and Tradition with those of worldly novelty, we are betraying Christ, and rendering ourselves to Caesar. Jesus does not want our 10%, he wants all of us, just as he has given his all to us.



The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.



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