Who Do We Follow?
Who do we follow in our deepest selves, Caesar or God? This question is just as relevant today as it was in the country in which Jesus lived, two thousand years ago. This is true even though circumstances in the United States are much different than those faced by the people of Jesus’ country.
Jesus lived in an occupied country that was brutally ruled by Rome. Rome was seen as not only brutal, but pagan as well, with its worship of many gods. It was, therefore, understandable that there were many responses to the Roman rule. There were the Herodians who collaborated with the Romans, and felt that the best way to prosper under the Romans was to get along with them. In stark contrast to the Herodians were the Zealots, who wanted armed rebellion against Rome. The Pharisees did not like the Romans any more than did the Zealots, but did not want a violent revolution against them.
Jesus was seen as a threat by each of these opposing groups, so they devised a way to discredit him: they asked him to render a verdict on whether it was lawful to pay the census tax to the Romans. The idea was to make Jesus look like either a Herodian collaborator if he said “yes,” or a violent revolutionary Zealot if he said “no.” He would be discredited either way, and possibly get himself crucified if he gave the Zealot answer. They thought that they were pretty smart.
But Jesus was smarter than they were. He said, “Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” They quickly produced the coin, not knowing that they had fallen into Jesus’ trap. The coin contained the image of Caesar with the inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”
The inscription proclaimed Tiberius as a god. Good Jews tried to avoid having this pagan image of a god on their person, yet at least one of the people trying to trip Jesus up had it on his person. While he was trying to make Jesus look bad in one way or the other, he was actually behaving in a worse manner than either of the alternatives of collaboration or revolt. He was contributing to the worship of the Caesar as a god. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
What does that mean in today’s world? It means that we support the government by paying taxes and obeying legitimate laws. But our souls and hearts are to belong to God. We need to be careful that we are not completely for Caesar. We do need to be completely for God. That means that we are against abortion, and against unjust wars. It means that God must be first in our hearts.
“The Church truly knows that only God, Whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what this world has to offer.” (Vatican II, Guadium Et Spes, §41)
Caesar and the world offer transitory things; God offers the eternal. Always go for the eternal.
So who do you support in your heart of hearts, God or Caesar?
—Father Mike Van Cleve
Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.