Caesar and Christ
“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,
And render unto God, that which is God’s” Matthew 22/21
Over a period of six days last week, I had the pleasure of seeing my 17 year old daughter preach a sermon at a service in the chapel of the Church in which she grew up, and participate in a debate on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives. It struck me that these two bookend events, to a large extent summed up much of the work she has participated in, and the energy which she has expended over the course of her childhood. In just a little over a month she will no longer be a child. She will be 18, fully emancipated, a legal adult, capable of doing anything except drinking alcohol and renting a car from Hertz or Avis. If she wants to join the Army or the Circus, I can’t stop her. She can go as far as her little Honda, her slim bank account and her non-existent credit can take her. She can seek my advice and counsel, but does not have to seek my permission. Actually, it has been awhile since she sought any of those things, but in theory, she was supposed to.
Our family gave subtle pushes of our daughter into two areas, Christianity, as understood by the United Methodist Church, and formal policy argumentation and debate, which, as near as I can tell, is not understood by anyone, anymore. At least not by me. In other words, we proposed that she engage both God and Caesar, and do her best to keep them in proper balance. Well, actually, we said nothing about balance because we never thought of that. Over the years, we have seen her struggle with that balance, sometimes leaning one way, sometimes the other. If you are serious about either of these courses of study, which she always has been, it is really more of a tightrope act than it appears.
The Pharisees who asked Jesus if the Jews should pay Roman taxes knew about the tightrope. Indeed, many scholars thought that the very question was unanswerable, in either direction, without the direst of consequences. The coin Jesus asked to examine had a picture of Caesar on its face, with a reference to his divinity. It was a graven image. Payment of a tax, especially with such a coin, could be easily interpreted as subservience to a graven image. The kind of thing that could get a Jewish boy killed. Yet failure to pay the tax, or even denouncing the payment of the tax, was treason to the Roman state and could result in crucifixion. Indeed, one of the charges against Jesus at his trial was that he had worked against the Roman tax system. A charge that did not get too far, by the way.
Two thousand years later, the choice would seem not quite as dangerous, although it still has significant consequences, even if with we discount any post death judgments that might be lying out there. Failure to properly balance God and Caesar, i.e. the spiritual and corporal sides of life, carries with it the possibilities that you may lose touch with God or humankind, and, just as bad, be ineffective in your pursuit of supporting the ideals of either or both.
The thing which I am proudest of, is that my daughter is engaged in that struggle. Relatively speaking, few people on the verge of adulthood worry about either issue. One of the wonderful things about the Obama campaign is that it has excited great numbers young adults to participate in electoral politics for the first time in many years. They may lose the election, but that’s not what is important. What will be important is, if they lose, they will appreciate the fight, and make the fight again and again. It is the same with religion. While I waited for my daughter’s sermon last Sunday, I sat through a service that was quite unfamiliar to me. Electric guitars and drums, youth in t-shirts and jeans, in the largest Methodist Church in central, Texas. It would be fair to say that I was uneasy. But it was this energy that had filled the chapel and made the Christian religion accessible to those young people.
As I type this, I think that my daughter is on the verge of a present balance between the political and the religious. I am obviously proud of that, because I have never been able to get the balance right. Although I’m still working on it. The politicians of the world need the spiritual strength that she is obtaining, the theologians of the world need her hardnosed strength of political character and belief. I think that she is going to function well in both worlds, and be of service in both worlds. I could not be prouder of her.