“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
The entire article is worth reading and is linked to this sermon on our
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
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.”
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.
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.”
As to the tribute, His response is equally astute. “Show Me the coin of
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.”