Saturday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Matthew
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In the Gospel today, we read the Lord’s well-known command to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” How can we fulfill His holy command today?
At that time, went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. – Matthew 22: 15-22
The Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trick the Lord into saying that a Jew should not pay tax to the Romans, so that they could accuse him to the Roman governor and have Him arrested as a rebel. Various phony messiahs appeared among the Jews in the period immediately before and after Jesus Christ, and they usually combined their supposed messiahship with political and military revolt against the Romans. They taught a worldly and carnal view of the Kingdom of God, an idea that somehow the Messiah would inaugurate an endless reign of the Jewish people over all races and nations, beginning with the defeat of the Roman conqueror. Our Lord, by contrast, the true Messiah and Savior of the world, says quietly to Pilate, the representative of earthly authority, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Our Lord’s command in today’s Gospel is, then, both simple and comprehensible: We are to render to God what is God’s – that is, our faith in Him and the commitment to fulfill our Baptismal vows, to live according to His holy commandments. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s: We must submit to the laws of man that do not directly violate the law of God. Our Lord Himself says to Pilate: “You would have no authority unless it were given you from above.” This word of the Lord is a sword cutting two ways: It means both that lawful governments do have authority from God – and thus Orthodox Christians are not anarchists – but also that the legitimacy of a government’s authority is measured by its conformity to the will of Him Who granted its authority, by its laws’ – and the administration of its laws – conforming to the Law of God. In the history of governments, both Christian and non-Christian, we see over and over again that as their behavior becomes more ungodly, God’s favor is withdrawn, and ultimately they fall. It is not a matter of “if” but “when.”
How are we Orthodox Christians in the United States supposed to deal with our current “Caesar,” seemingly all-powerful and brazenly anti-Christian – indeed, anti-human – a tiny foreign oligarchy of finance and corporate power-mongers who believe that they will answer to no one but their father the devil, who shamelessly manipulate the ever-expanding coercive apparatus of our formerly constitutional government to impose their will on an increasingly enslaved population? Our Holy Mother the Church, who is “ever ancient, ever new,” still has the answers for our lives, no less than She did when our fathers lived under Christian kings who protected Her and fostered Her children with just laws and the spread of true religion.
Striving as best I can to convey Her holy teachings, I would like to offer a few thoughts:
First of all, we must be convinced that the All-Good God, Who desires our salvation more than we do, has placed each of us in this situation precisely for our salvation. He is both All-Wise and All-Powerful, as well as All-Good, and in His wisdom, He will use even the evil deeds of evil men to save those who love Him and desire to do His holy will. What does Jesus Christ say? “In your patience possess ye your souls.” “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” If we believe resolutely that the Lord is working for our salvation precisely in the midst of our actual circumstances, and if we focus on our salvation and that of those we love, this gives us firm hope in the midst of the darkness of our age, and helpless rage against the agents of Satan is transformed into the quiet determination this day, this hour, to love God above all and do His holy will. As St. Paul writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31).”
Second, we must recall that we are primarily in a spiritual warfare, that the outer struggles we witness are but the “tip of the iceberg,” the visible signs of a vast, invisible conflict. We Orthodox Christians, a tiny and obscure minority in America, are in fact – if only we could see it – at the front line of the real conflict, for we are those tasked with the warfare against Satan, and we are the ones who have the weapons to engage in it. St. Paul says,
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6: 11-13).
The “whole armor of God” includes all the gifts of Faith and grace, and the entire moral-ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church. We possess an enormous trove of defensive armor and offensive weapons to choose from.
St. Theophylact of Ochrid, in his commentary on today’s passage, says that, besides referring to the visible earthly ruler, the image of “Caesar” can also represent an invisible, evil “Caesar” – the devil: “…each one of us must render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, namely we must throw to the demon who rules below the things which belong to him. As for example, when you have anger that comes from Caesar [i.e., the devil], throw it back at him, get angry at him. Then you will also be able to render to God the things that are God’s (The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chrysostom Press 2008, p. 190).” We must struggle courageously and daily against the passions and demons, in a conscious spiritual life undertaken by the grace of God and under the direction of the Orthodox Church and Her divine wisdom. This is our first line of defense against the evils which beset us, and it is the most important. If the devil has no power over us, what can man do to us?
Third, let us resolve to love our neighbor. Our Divine Savior says that in the last times, the love of the many will grow cold. Let us postpone the last times by warming our hearts with the divine love, the true charity that is of God – not a sentimental warmth masking tolerance of evil, but a militant desire for our neighbor’s salvation. Our neighbor is just that – the person next to us, family, friends, fellow parishioners. The global elite uses its brainwashing apparatus to distract and paralyze us by stirring up loves and hatreds of things and people not related to us, far away and beyond our power to affect. Let us turn off the brainwashing, quietly reckon up a list of those whose lives we can realistically affect, and do each day what is truly for their true good, “…committing ourselves, one another, and all our life to Christ our God.”
May God the King of the Ages, the only true Ruler of Heaven and Earth, work His holy will in our lives today and forever!
“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!”
“Thy Kingdom come!”