“Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.”
Just this past week, quite by coincidence, I came across a brief commentary on today’s Gospel. But instead of being written by a Catholic, it was given by a Moslem at one of those “ecumenical” meetings at which Catholics are told the things they ought no longer believe in. In fact, one lady, seemingly a Catholic, tried to put forth the idea that it is no longer necessary to believe that Jesus died on the Cross—but that foolishness is a sermon for some other time. The meeting was in the archdiocese of Los Angeles, and you may be interested in reading the entire text of the article I found. I’ll leave my copy here on the pulpit, or you can read it on the Internet [at www.losangelesmission.com/ed/articles/2005/0510rg.htm]; it is linked to this sermon on the Parish web site.
In any event, one of the Moslem speakers, a man by the name of Shaikh Sadullah Khan, and identified as an “Islamic scholar,” had this to say:
After questioning why such a conference was going on under Catholic auspices, the first question that came to mind—and I hope that it came to your mind as well—is, how can these folks see things so differently? Certainly, Catholics would agree that life here on earth ought to be oriented toward God and toward happiness with Him in Heaven. But at the same time, instinctively, I think, we would also object that “Allah” of the Moslems is intent on denying to his followers both free will and the creative use of their intellect.
Through Mohammad, Allah has demanded submission from his followers—and, indeed, “submission” is precisely what the word “Islam” means. On the other hand, through His divine Son, God the Father asks to be regarded as “our Father,” and glories in those who love Him through the free exercise of the intellect and will with which He created us.
Critics of the Catholic Church often accuse us of being a restrictive force that kept civilization from developing during the long period of the middle ages. For the most part, such critics are simply ignorant of the prodigious efforts that were made by the Church’s clergy and laity after the near destruction of Roman civilization. They take for granted the accomplishments of Christendom in developing art and music and philosophy and the beginnings of modern science, as though these were nothing.
Paradoxically, the same critics often exalt the Islamic nations over Christendom, as though Mohammad had brought about a golden age of civilization, far greater than that of Christendom. The facts are otherwise. Moslem oral tradition [hadith] has Mohammad saying:
Aisha, one of Mohammad’s wives, and Ibn Abbas, and Abu Talha, his associates relate his attitude toward art:
Cats are okay, by the way (and birds and fish)—just not dogs (or pigs)!
Islam was also inhospitable to philosophy. The eleventh century Koranic scholar Al‑Ghazali (1058-1111), branded several of the more famous Moslem philosophers as “infidels and that the killing of those who uphold their beliefs is obligatory.” Perhaps more to the point, through the Koran, Allah himself claimed to be changeable; the implication being that there could be no permanent truths of philosophy or science—The Koran was all one needed, “a guidance for mankind, clear proofs of the guidance, and a criterion (for right and wrong).”
What all of this seems to miss is that “God did not create the world in vain, but rather He created it to be lived in.” It misses the reality that “God created man to His own image ... male and female ...” and told them to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over ... all living creatures that move upon the earth. In God’s creation, man is not simply a hired servant who must submit; rather, he is a steward, a son or a daughter who has been told to go out and use his intellect and free will to make good use of his Father’s estates.
God’s sons and daughters rarely live in isolation—so, in God’s scheme of things, there must be governments. The monarchy of Israel and the republic of Rome are two examples we see in Sacred Scripture—there well can be other legitimate models. God has given His people the right to manage their temporal affairs as His stewards. As His steward, the legitimate ruler is “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him that does evil ... there is no power but from God: and those that are ordained of God.” It is altogether reasonable to support the legitimate ruler in administering God’s justice among men: “Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear: honor, to whom honor [is due].”
Now, it is quite possible that our Lord’s words sounded almost as strange to the Pharisees as they did to our Islamic scholar in Los Angeles. The Jewish people had once been ruled directly by God through Moses—a situation not terribly different from the Moslems who are ruled by Allah through Mohammad. True, Israel had later been a monarchy for a number of years, but that quickly became a disaster after the death of King Solomon. And Cæsar, of course, represented a foreign power—an occupying army and a legion of tax collectors—certainly not the long awaited restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.
But Rome had filled a vacuum. When the Kingdom of Israel fell, its people were taken over by the Babylonians and the Assyrians, and later the Persians. Not many years later Israel was something for the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great to fight over. It was Israel that approached Rome for help—and got more than it ever bargained for. Yet Rome brought some semblance of order, generally respected the religion and morals of Israel, and provided the peace necessary for a modicum of prosperity to return.
Cæsar had some claim to legitimacy and to the taxes of the people whom the Romans ruled. It was permissible, as our Lord said, to “render unto Cæsar what was Cæsar’s.” But Cæsar had his defects—many of them—and it was up to man, as the steward of God’s estates, to look for something better.
It is not “submission” in the Moslem sense—it is more a question of glorifying God with the proper use of our intellect and will—but, as God’s steward, man is responsible for organizing his affairs in accordance with God’s laws. This is as true today as it was in the time of Christ—perhaps more so, for in our particular time and circumstances we have a much greater influence on public affairs than any ordinary citizen had under the rule of the Cæsars.
While Allah has demanded submission from his followers, God has allowed us to develop a civilization with music and art and philosophy and science—a civilization consistent with the idea of being stewards over God’s creation. I would ask you to remember that our stewardship is great gift, but also a binding obligation. It is our duty to act as informed and responsible stewards of what God has placed in our charge. “Rendering unto Cæsar” means far more than just paying taxes—it demands some careful attention on our part.
And don’t forget that the alternative to demanding good government may very well be submission—perhaps submission to a tyrannical government—perhaps even submission to the followers of Allah. It is our Christian duty to exercise the dominion God gave us over the things of the earth—thereby rendering not only unto Cæsar, but also rendering unto God what is His due.
 Gospel: Matthew 22: 15-21.
 Ryan Grant Jihad, A Beautiful Concept? Ecumenical Conference Presents a Peaceful Islam http://www.losangelesmission.com/ed/articles/2005/0510rg.htm.
 Music and Singing: A Detailed Fatwa http://www.sunnipath.com/resources/Questions/qa00002024.aspx
 Al-Ghazali, “Tahafut-al- falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers)”, tr. Marmura, M.E., at http://www.chowk.com/show_article.cgi?aid=00001545&channel=university%20ave&start=0&end=9&chapter=1&page=1.
 Koran Surah II: 106, and 185
 Cf. Isaias xlv: 18
 Genesis i: 27, 28.
 Romans xiii: 4 and 1.
 Romans xiii: 7