Render Unto to Ceasar … What Did Jesus Teach About Church and State?

Render Unto to Ceasar … What Did Jesus Teach About Church and State? June 15, 2021

Denarius (18 AD – 35 AD) of Tiberius (Roman emperor (Emperor 14 AD – 37 AD), also sometimes referred to as a Tribute Penny. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus Christ

Jesus said quite a lot about politics, but religious leaders tend to ignore all of it. 

I think they ignore it is because it doesn’t fit with the fact that, however much religious leaders may try to deify themselves, they are just fallen human beings, living in a fallen world. As such, they are prey to all the same desires, ambitions and weaknesses as the rest of humanity. 

If you doubt that, I direct you to a sober study of the Passion of Our Lord. 

Who killed Christ? 

Political priests acting on behalf of their political ambitions and goals in collusion with a cowardly politician murdered Jesus. The priests prodded the politician into committing what he himself acknowledged was judicial murder to placate the various political forces at work in his governance. The politician demurred, delayed and tried to hand the whole thing off to another politician, but in the end, he and the political priests killed Christ. 

Of course they had support from an obliging crowd of jeering onlookers that was probably composed of a mixture of Temple operatives, a handful of Jesus’ demoralized and terrified supporters and an unruly mob of spectacle-seeking voyeurs. Then as now, politics and religion make a lethal brew that knows neither conscience nor compassion. 

Political priests plotted, schemed, perjured and manipulated their way to executing God in human flesh. Pilate, the cowardly politician, wanted no part of the deal, had to be bullied into it. But the priests sought it, schemed for it, connived to get it, and then mocked and reviled Jesus as He hung dying in agony on the cross. 

That’s what politics does to priests. It’s what religious leaders become when they go whoring after political power and money. Nothing in 2,000 years has changed that reality. 

It’s no wonder that religious leaders either ignore or obfuscate what Jesus had to say about politics and religion, because if they read His words for what they mean, their hands would be tied and they would know that they have to chose between their vocations as Christian religious leaders and their desire to belly up to the political trough. 

Politics and religious leadership are two separate anointings. When politicians try to use religion to justify their politics, they turn to evil and destructive governance. When religious leaders go running after politics instead of preaching Christ, they turn from Christ. Both of them fail utterly and completely in their calling. 

What did Jesus say about politics? He was, when you read what He said, quite explicit.

The religious leaders who ultimately murdered Our Lord tried for a long time to bait Him out and entrap Him with His own words. One of these attempts was to ask Him if people should pay the Roman tax. 

The Roman tax system was set up so that the tax collector earned his pay by adding to the tax and taking the difference for himself. The system was a set up for abuse that impoverished the citizenry. People resented it and with justice. 

So, the question was a trap. If Jesus had said pay the tax, it would have enraged ordinary people. If He had said don’t pay the tax, the religious leaders could have gone to the Romans to have Him arrested. 

What He did instead was take a coin and point to the engraving of Ceasar that was on it. Whose image in on this coin? He asked. When people answered that it was Ceasar’s image, Jesus said, Then, give to Ceasar, what is Ceasar’s. And give to God that which is God’s.

That wasn’t just a clever answer to a trick question. It was Jesus, saying in a first century way that church and state — religion and politics — were two separate spheres. 

Give to God that which is God’s. 

Don’t cast your pearls before swine. 

Notice that Jesus never said, not once, Give to Ceasar that which is God’s. But that is exactly what politicized religious leaders do. In our own time, politicized religious leaders have laid the Gospels and the Commandments, as well as their own calling as religious leaders, on the altar of political power and money and offered them up. 

The only thing they had to barter with at the power tables of power politics was their moral and prophetic voice as religious leaders. Instead of speaking for Christ, they have used their positions to speak for a fascist and increasingly violent far right that used that religious voice to impoverish and delude millions of people. Religious leaders have sold their souls and their calling for changes in the law that benefit them, cash handouts of government money and “access” to ruthless political power brokers. 

They have not given to God that which is God’s. What they have done instead is they have given what is God’s to Ceasar. 

Jesus made this same point a number of times. My Kingdom is not of this world He told Pilate. 

I don’t think He meant that Christians are supposed to live in isolation to avoid the world. His instructions to us were the opposite of that. 

He said, You are the light of the world … let your light shine … Go … teach what I have taught, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, converting all nations. 

Jesus didn’t tell us to hide our faith. He told us to live it in the open, where people could see it and be drawn to Him because of it. He told us to teach what He taught and convert all the people of the world. 

He sent us to bring His salvation and eternal life to everyone, everywhere. 

Never, not once, did He tell us that following Him would make us rich or give us the Kingdoms of this world. In fact, He explicitly turned down temporal power for Himself when satan tempted Him in the desert. 

Politics and the priesthood are separate callings with separate anointings. Both of them can be honorable callings by which their practitioners can give feet to their faith. But when politicians put on a false piety to win votes or when clergy put on politics to short circuit the work of conversion and gain power for themselves, their vocations become rotting carcases. No good will come of what they do. 

Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s, and to God that which is God’s. 

Christ the Lord, God in human flesh, told us that Church and State are two separate things and should be kept that way. 

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