Have You Fallen for the “Divine Caesar”

Is 45:1,4-6 / 1 Thes 1:1-5b / Mt 22:15-21

A very long time ago, when Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he came to the Red Sea. The Egyptians were in hot pursuit, so Moses prayed hard for God’s help and God responded immediately: “I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is that I’ll part the sea so you and your people can escape. The bad news is that you’re going to have to file an environmental impact report!”

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Forget it!!!

As he led that whiny crowd through the desert for forty years, how many times Moses must have wanted to say, “Forrr-GET it!” But he never said it, because his heart was committed to the people God had given him to care for. His heart was where it belonged and he wouldn’t take it back.

So where is your heart? Where’s mine? That’s the question Jesus is posing to us in Sunday’s Gospel. When he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” Jesus isn’t talking about church-state relations.  He’s talking about a much bigger question: Have you invested your heart in the right place, in something worthy of your life’s blood, something that will yield a return that’s worthy of a whole human life?

Good question! And as Christians, most of us have probably got a pretty good answer, something like this: What I most value are my family and friends, my Lord, my country, and God’s beautiful earth. Good answer! But is it true?

There’s only one way to find out: Check our daily choices, the little ones as well the big ones. Look for the patterns: What we usually do when decision time comes, where we spend our prime time and our best energies.  These are the infallible indicators of what we truly value, and what we don’t. The patterns don’t lie. They tell us where our hearts really are. Everything else is just so much pious balderdash.

So where ARE we? Are our hearts just floating about unattached? Are we giving our hearts to things that have no life to give us in return? Is there a mismatch between our words and the pattern of our deeds?

That’s what Jesus is asking as he holds up that Roman coin with the picture and inscription of Caesar, who claimed to be a God — “the Divine Caesar”! “What return could a ‘heart investment’ in Caesar bring in the end?” Jesus asks us.  “Absolutely nothing!” is Jesus’ answer.

“If you’ve fallen for any of life’s tricks,” says Jesus, “don’t despair at all the wasted time and lost opportunities. Don’t give up. Instead, name your folly, and shed your tears. Then name aloud what is truly worth your heart, and give your whole heart to that. I’ll be with you as you walk this new road,” says Jesus. “I’ll be with you all the way home!”