Monday, April 15, 2013

Rendering Unto Caesar

According to the experts, America is biblically illiterate. Although the Bible is the best-selling book every year in its various versions, translations and formats, it’s said few people actually take the time to read it even once a week.

Despite that reality, the Bible has obviously made its mark on our culture. Terms like “prodigal son,” “good Samaritan,” the “widow’s mite” and “sweating blood” all originated in the Scriptures.

When was the last time you encountered a cute little girl baby named “Jezebel”? That name was thoroughly besmirched in 1 and 2 Kings. We love “David vs. Goliath” matchups in sports. To trace the beginning of things is to explore their “genesis.”

Everyone’s heard of the 10 commandments, even though they might not be able to recite them. (People even think Moses looked just like Charlton Heston.) Movie titles and magazine headlines sometimes borrow the biblical term “sin,” although to entice viewers and readers rather than to repel them.

When Jesus talked about "rendering
to Caesar," He wasn't talking about salad.
Another Bible-rooted term, “render unto Caesar,” fits today, the deadline for filing Federal income taxes. In the days of Jesus, Caesar symbolized the Roman government. In contemporary usage, “Caesar” is our Federal government. So procrastinators squeeze these last hours to get their tax documents in order, assured “Caesar” in Washington, D.C. is waiting with outstretched hands.

But when Jesus coined the phrase in Mark 12:17, telling His questioners that government should receive what it’s entitled to get, He added something else: Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s....’” We tend to forget or ignore the second part.

Some pastors might disagree, but when He added, “render…to God what is God’s,” I believe Jesus was referring to a lot more than denarii and shekels (or dollars and cents today). Psalm 51:17 points out, for instance, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

In Micah 6:8 it states, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

And in Colossians 3:23-24 we’re told, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Most of us fulfill our duty by paying our taxes, “rendering unto Caesar.” But I suspect we’re not nearly as successful at this business of “rendering unto God” – at least as He expects. These passages say what He desires most from us are humility and repentance, justice and mercy, wholeheartedness and gratitude.

I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go before I can say I’m doing a good job on those counts.

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