“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”.
How should we, as Christians, understand this guideline and live up to
it? What is it that goes to Caesar if we have to give to God what is
His, i.e., everything?
Human beings are no predators who hunt alone or in packs. They are “political animals,” i. e., civilized. They live with other human beings: they identify with the relationships they have. The city-village is the first stable society: a coming together of families with rules that regulate their relationships.
How do rules come about? Romulus, the founder of Rome, in order to found the city, killed his brother Remus. We find the same myth in every culture: the city is born on the corpse of the brother. The strongest dominates: with his violence, he controls everyone else’s violence and, in this way, makes the living together possible. He is admired and envied, the ideal man and everyone’s ideal. Those who can, rebel in order to take his place: those who climb the throne are the designated victims of those who succeed them. Kings – criminals crowned by the blood they spilled – dominate the world scenario. Laws and history books are their apology: public opinion (in this sense, it is important to pay attention to television) is enslaved by the bosses of the moment.
Even Cain is founder of cities (Genesis 4:1-17). The Bible, however, doesn’t side with him but with his murdered brother, Abel. According to the prophets, now as then, apologetics on behalf of a ruler is equal to apologetics on behalf of evil (Judges 9:7-15; 1 Samuel 8:1-19; 2 Samuel 7:1-16). And yet, they are not dreaming to go back to Eden, the garden of lost innocence. They are instead pointing out to the holy city, God’s city, where human beings will deal with their fellow humans no more like wolves but in the way God deals with them.
Fundamentalists, whether Christian or not, think of two cities, one against the other, one belonging to God and the other to Satan. The city, however, is only one: the sum total of the people who inhabit it. It is up to us to make it progress towards solidarity or regress towards violence. It is great political charity to give voice to the human rights of other people, starting from the most defenseless.
What is God’s and what is Caesar’s? What to give the former and what the latter? Strictly speaking, everything belongs to God who, however, instead of grabbing, gives away. Thus, nothing is to be given back to God. Everything is His gift on our behalf. Ours is the responsibility of fostering and keeping fraternal life: to give to God, who is Father, equals to give to our brothers. If we do not act thus, God’s gifts become means of division and death.
The relationship of the Christian with the State (Read Mark 12:13-17) is object of discernment. Jesus doesn’t want either a Christian state or a Christian party. He did not aim at power grabbing like we do. He fled from what He perceived as Satan’s temptation whereas, for us, it is God’s blessing (Cf. Luke 4:6ff). Already during His time, there were different positions: throne-altar alliance for mutual support (that was what the Herodians were doing), opposition between the two in a power struggle (thus the Zealots), separation of one from the other, i.e., a free Church in a free State (thus the Pharisees), concordat for mutual privileges (thus the high priests and Sadducees).
Jesus’ answer is neither approval nor rebellion, neither indifference nor ‘concordism.’ He proposes, following the prophets, a critical and conditioned loyalty. The Christian approves power as long as it works for the common good (Romans 13:1-17); but refuses it if it becomes absolute, wants to prevail by force or takes away freedom (Revelation 13:1ff). He/she knows how much power can be soaked in tears and blood. For this reason, he/she denounces the falseness of the “bossy” model that everybody is longing for, even the disciples, and announces the beauty of the opposite model (Mark 10:42-45) – not only in words, but with his/her own life. For this reason, the prophet (John the Baptist) suffers a professional hazard: beheading, losing one’s head! But history progresses, thanks to this type of people. Who are in the world, but don’t belong to the world: their principle is not egoism’s slavery, but freedom’s love?