Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost—20 October A.D. 2013


Roman Denarius-Tribute Coin-Tiberius Cæsar[1]

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar' s;
and to God, the things that are God' s.

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    The inspiration and much of the information for this sermon came from an article by Jeffrey F. Barr  on[2]  The entire article is worth reading and is linked to this sermon on our website.

    The idea of “rendering to Cæsar,” is sometimes mis-used as an argument that Christians must support the government; even illegitimate governments, and even if they demand exorbitant rates of tax. The mistake is made that our Lord was confirming the authority of the Roman occupational forces, giving Cæsar a status somehow on par with God—at least in things which pertained to government. This is simply not true.

    The event in today's Gospel took place after Palm Sunday, with its triumphal procession through the streets of Jerusalem, and the proclamation of Our Lord's kingship by the adoring crowds.  The Pharisees were desperate to discredit our Lord with the people, or to find some charge against Him that the Romans would prosecute.  Whether or not it was licit to pay tribute to Cæsar was a trick question--an attempt to force Him to say something that would cause Him trouble.

    Cæsar was the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Cæsar, and he was reputed to be a very evil man: murderer, pervert and pedophile.[3]  The Romans were hated for their occupation of Palestine and Jerusalem, the holy city of God, and for their taxation.  For just about all of our Lord’s life there had been a revolt against the payment of tribute—sometimes it was violent.  Those in revolt held “that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery.”[4]  The Jews believed that any payment of tribute belonged to God.  They made offerings at the Temple in order to keep their first-born, they paid tithes of their produce.  A messianic prophecy, known to the Jews, had God saying:

    I will move all nations: AND THE DESIRED OF ALL NATIONS SHALL COME: and I will fill this house [My Temple] with glory: saith the Lord of hosts.  The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.[5]

    The tribute paid to the Romans would go back to Rome.  The “bread and circuses” of the Roman Emperors were for Roman citizens—the Jews got no bread, and the circuses were vile, and often violent, spectacles.  For God’s people the care and feeding of the poor was an obligation of private charity, or perhaps an obligation of the synagogue or the Temple, but not something to be administered through coercive taxation at the government’s discretion, and for political control.

    So, when the question of paying tribute was put to our Lord, the questioner thought he had left Jesus no avenue of escape.  One is reminded of the question posed to Him about what to do with the woman caught committing adultery—He didn’t rule either way, but just said that “he who is without sin” should be the one to “cast the first stone at her.”[6] As to the tribute, His response is equally astute.  “Show Me the coin of tribute.”

    To understand this it is necessary to know a little about Jewish coins, and about this special "coin of tribute," which our Lord demanded to see.  To begin with, in order to insure against idolatry, the Law of Moses forbade the making of any "graven image." Jewish art was never supposed to portray humans or animals.  Images on Jewish coins would have been restricted to such innocuous designs as flowers or geometric shapes.  The coin of tribute was of Roman design and Roman manufacture.  In Jesus' time it had a bust of Tiberius Caesar, and an inscription referring to Tiberius as the “Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus” and on the reverse side an image of the Roman goddess of peace and an inscription referring to Tiberius as the "High Priest" [of peace].  It would have been of about the same size and silver content as our dimes were before the U.S. government began debasing the coins back around 1965.

    So we have the almost laughable scene of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, Prince of Peace, and High Priest of soon to be redeemed mankind being shown a tenth of an ounce of silver, upon which a fatuous human being had impressed his own image and usurped titles belonging to God alone!

    This incident took place in the Temple at Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, where no upright and observant Jew should have carried such a coin (If he possessed one at all).  So just by having the coin in his purse, the Pharisee demonstrated his own disregard for the Mosaic Law, and his own willingness to do business with the hated Roman occupational force.  Jews did not trade with each other using the Roman coins—the Roman forces were the only source of them.

    Jesus required the Pharisee to identify the image and the inscription of Tiberius.  Clearly they referred to a human being, and not to God.  The image and an inscription based on falsehoods were of no particular value, and returning them to their owner would violate no moral principle.  Forced to pay tribute by the Roman soldiers, it might even be legitimate to hand over the coin bearing the image and inscription—Tiberius had, after all, mined the silver and struck the coin. Not worth risking your life over.

    But men and women are made in God’s image and likeness—it is never moral to render them to Cæsar—not as servants to Cæsar, and not as slaves to the world—for they do not belong to Cæsar, nor to the world—they and all that pertains to them belong to God.  Men and women are meant by God to be free.  So, “render therefore … to God, the things that are God' s.”



[2]   Jeffrey F. Barr, “Render Unto Caesar: A Most Misunderstood New Testament Passage”

[3]   Suetonius, Lives of the 12 Cæsars, Tiberias 43-45*.html

[4]   Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews - Book XVIII, Chapter 1


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