Rendering to Caesar Daily

Jesus of Nazareth grew up and lived in Roman occupied territory.  Amongst his fellow Jews it was widely hoped that the Messiah would throw off the Roman occupation and re-establish the dynasty of King David.  As the public ministry of Jesus progressed, and his movement grew, many in the population began to consider the possibility that he might be that expected Messiah.

One of the more irksome aspects of the occupation was the requirement of paying taxes to the Romans.  This was a burden that was impoverishing the country inasmuch as the ability to pay was not a primary consideration in the amount to be levied.  Rome saw no wisdom in doing anything to its own detriment.  Resistance to Roman taxes, therefore, became a foundational aspect of Jewish nationalism.

Jesus was ultimately executed by the Romans, but he also had some enemies among his own people.  Some of these publicly put the tax question to him, asking him whether Jews were to pay taxes to the Romans or not.  The question was designed to put him in a spot.  If he answered that the taxes were to be paid, then his messianic credentials would be in question, and he would lose much of his following.  If he answered, in public, that Jews were not to pay the Roman tax, there would be evidence to bring him before the Romans for insurrection.

Jesus’ response is oft-quoted, but generally misunderstood.  He asked to be shown the money for the tax, and they brought him a coin.  He then asked them whose image and inscription was on the coin.  The image and inscription were that of Caesar.  Hearing that acknowledged, Jesus then said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”

The significance of the image on the coin was that Caesar, although a human emperor, was also the god of the Roman civic religion.  The coins containing the image were used in commerce throughout the Roman Empire, including in the Jewish homeland of Judea.  That is why there were moneychangers in the Jewish Temple: coins containing what was essentially a graven image could not be permitted for use within the sacred precincts.

Jesus often spoke in a pithy and proverbial manner, but the point he was making could be paraphrased this way: “Your question is whether we should pay the Roman tax, which is paid with Roman money.  But this money, which, by the way, contains a graven image, is what we use in our commercial transactions.  How much sense, from the standpoint of Jewish independence, does it make to say that we should keep the Roman money?  If we think it is without value, then why not give it to them?  If we think it has value, then haven’t we bought into the very system we say we are rejecting?  And if we’ve bought into the Roman system, how do we then claim exemption from taxes?  Therefore, your question is irrelevant regarding whether we resist the Romans or capitulate, because the question, in fact, assumes capitulation.  As long as you use Caesar’s money, you’re subject to Caesar, and his willing subject to boot.”

Now let’s apply this lesson to the present day.  There is much to resent about that sector of the American economy called high finance.  Wall Street controls the economy, as well as the government because of campaign contributions, all to the detriment of the middle class and working people.  Everyone is aware of it, but nothing can be done about it, because no one in a position of power will do anything about it.  If a candidate for office wants to do something about it, he will be ignored or ridiculed by a lazy and corporately controlled news media.  To compound the problem, most people in the United States usually don’t vote in elections, thus giving party sycophants more power than they otherwise would have.

How is this done to us without rifles sighted on our heads at every moment?  We use the money.  As long as we use Caesar’s money, we’re going to be dancing to Caesar’s tune. 

Of course, we always need some of Caesar’s money to pay Caesar’s taxes. But if only Caesar used Caesar’s money, he would have a hard time buying anything from anyone else.  So he would have to pass a law requiring people to use his money.  Still, if everyone stopped using Caesar’s money, he wouldn’t be able to enforce it against everybody.

Caesar doesn’t worry about this, though.  He’s confident that almost everyone will use his money.  Getting out from under Caesar’s money would require a mass effort, and a level of mutual human cooperation that hasn’t been seen since we were hunters and gatherers.

And now you know why the unrighteous Mammon is unrighteous.

Jack Quirk

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