We Don’t Belong to Caesar

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says on this final day of the Fortnight for Freedom:

God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God and nothing – at least nothing permanent and important – belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God, and only to God.

Young Jose, as you’ve read, has the right idea, in other words, in the beginning of his interview on the Fortnight.

In his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Chaput goes on to say:

To be made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact. Every one of us shares — in a limited but real way — in the nature of God himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.

Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image” — in other words, you and me. All of us.

And that raises some unsettling questions: What do you and I, and all of us, really render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?

Thinking about the relationship of Caesar and God, religious faith and secular authority, is important. It helps us sort through our different duties as Christians and citizens. But on a deeper level, Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously we’re in the world. That means we have obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it. Patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.

But God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God and nothing – at least nothing permanent and important – belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God, and only to God.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us, “Indeed religion” — the RSV version says “godliness” – “with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.” True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ. It has no love of riches or the appetites they try to satisfy. True freedom can walk away from anything — wealth, honor, fame, pleasure. Even power. It fears neither the state, nor death itself.

Who is the most free person at anything? It’s the person who masters her art. A pianist is most free who — having mastered her instrument according to the rules that govern it and the rules of music, and having disciplined and honed her skills — can now play anything she wants.

The same holds true for our lives. We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intention for us, we are then — and only then — truly free.

Read his homily here.


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