Proper 23 ~ Lectionary Year A ~ October 19, 2008
Holy Trinity & St. Anskar
+In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity
imagine our Lord holding up the coin with Cæsar's, and flipping
it to the crowd, with contempt. Render unto Cæsar the
things that are Cæsar's and unto God the things that are God's.
Well, as I have said before, money is stamped with the image of Cæsar; humanity is stamped with the image of God. And humanity represents all creation. So money belongs to Cæsar; everything else belongs to God.
God isn't interested in money. It seems to be the only thing that excited His contempt, during His life on earth. (Remember His outrage and violence against the money~changers in the Temple.)
Why anger and contempt from the One Who loved everything human ~ everything that He had made? It has to be because money so easily breaks out of its legitimate role as a servant of human convenience and turns against humanity. That which is legitimately useful as a tool of exchange so we don't have to waste time and energy in bartering, becomes cancerous ~ a ravening demon, which "corrupts and destroys the creatures of God." Of that kind of money Jesus said "You cannot serve God an mammon. And "the love of money is the root of all evil." Of course, He meant loving money for its own sake ~ so that money becomes a usurper of the glory due to God, like Cæsar.
The love of money may be the purest form of idolatry. Inasmuch as it is love of precisely NOTHING. Money in itself is nothing ~ a piece of metal or a scrap of paper, which SYMBOLIZES something of value. It is an IKON of the fruits of human labor, but it has no value in itself, and to love it for its own sake is to serve NOTHINGNESS, to commit suicide by turning from life to nothing. One of the Gospels identifies Judas as "a lover of money" , who sold the Godman for a few coins, and Judas "went out and hanged himself." The lover of money renounces the human vocation and ends up hating his own humanity and his own life.
The lover of money does not love his neighbor, and thus cuts himself off from the human community, which is the only fulfillment of human life. Or what is worse, he sinks in the deadly illusion that his money can provide that fulfillment, that community. Cæsar did create a kind of community ~ or, rather, a kind of social and political order. It was an order based on domination instead of love. And its ubiquitous symbol was money, bearing the idolatrous image of the Emperor. You know, Cæsar claimed to be a demi-god, descended from the goddess Venus. All over the eastern part of the empire, he was worshipped as a god. Herod the Great (remembered mostly nowadays as the killer of the infants of Bethlehem) built a temple to the glory of the "Divine Augustus" near the capital of the old Northern Kingdom, Samaria. Its ruins may be visited to this day, and it is quite impressive, as all of Heod's buildings were. So Cæsar's image on the coins was itself an idol. That is why they had to be changed for more acceptable currency in the forecourt of the Temple in Jerusalem: Roman coins could not be used to buy sacrificial goods inside the Temple; it would have been sacrilege.
Like the coin with Cæsar's image and superscription, all money runs the risk of becoming an idol. So, by all means, give it back to Cæsar, send it back where it came from, get rid of it, renounce it. At the very least, if you are going to use it, keep it under strict control. Be sure to REGULATE it carefully. [We are now learning that lesson anew~ very literally and painfully ~ but that is not the subject I want to emphasize.]
Let's look at the other side of the coin (as it were): "render to God the things that are God's." What is "God's"? Well, everything that is ~ everything but that which is not But money is nothing. Money is the image of a false God. Humanity, by contrast is the image of the Holy Trinity, at least it is called to be that. And not humanity only, but the whole universe, because human beings are connected to the whole universe and we represent it. We cannot be separated from it. I just learned that our bodies are interpenetrated by alien life-forms. Apparently, from the beginning life has been a combination of micro-organisms, and every single cell of our own bodies comprises beings that are NOT US, in the sense that they have different DNA. The human creature is the microcosm ~ the distillation ~ of all creation. Humanity is also the mediator between creation and Creator, the point of contact between God and the beloved, suffering creation.
It is the divine calling and mission of humanity to gather up all of creation ~ like Noah ~ to preserve and save it, and finally to present it to the Creator for its transfiguration ~ to “render to God the things that are God’s. It is our vocation to assist in the transfiguration of the Cosmos, the completion of Creation, the union of the whole creation with God in the Body of Christ. The Church is not just for human beings, the Chhurch is ordained to include all life and all creatures material and spiritual, living and inert.
This great calling is forsaken when we turn to serve money. That is a renunciation of our calling ~ a voluntary return to Pharaonic slavery that cuts us off form Creation and pone another, causes us in fact to become despoileres of creation and of our selves, and imprisons us under imperial domination, where creation including human beings is turned into commodities to be bought and sold. No wonder it made Jesus angry!
The notion of human solidarity with the cosmos is foreign to lovers of money. Sadly, for that very reason it has been foreign to modern capitalism, for which the creation exists only to be converted to money. To be "liquidated", that is, to be turned, ultimately, into nothing. Now, money CAN be redemptive, It is redemptive when it is given away. The widows mite ~ "all she had, her whole living" ~ went a long way toward the transfiguration of the cosmos: a good deal further than all of Herod's building projects, including the Temple itself, into whose coffers it was cast. It caused even Jesus to marvel at her generosity and the little coin of that poor woman is remembered to this day. Blessed be she! Her contribution was her participation in the beloved community.
Human community with one another and with the whole creation is the teaching of the ancient church. The astounding St. Maximos the Confessor, who suffered and died because he would NOT render to Cæsar (even a Christian Cæsar) the things that were God's, this great Father of the Church elaborated that ancient teaching. Here is an account of this thinking, written shortly before I was born by the great Russian émigré theologian Vladimir Lossky, together with a quotation of the ecstatic remarks of St. Isaac the Syrian:
It was the divinely appointed function of the first man…to unite in himself the whole of created being; and at the same time to reach his perfect union with God and thus grant the state of deification to the whole creation…constantly bearing paradise within himself, being in ceaseless communion with God, he would be able to transform the whole earth into paradise…Since this task which was given to Man was notnfulfilled by Adam, it is in the work of Christ, the second Adam, that we can see what it was meant to be…
Man is not being isolated from the rest of creation; by his very nature he is bound up with the whole of the universe, and St. Paul bears witness that the whole creation awaits the future glory which will be revealed in the sons of God…
“What is a charitable heart?” ~ asks St. Isaac the Syrian ~ it is a heart that is burning with charity for the whole of creation,for human beings, for birds, for the beasts, for the demons ~ for all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes filling with tears by reason of the immense compassion that seizes the heart: a heart that is softened and can no longer bear to see or to learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted upon a creature. This is why such persons never ceases to pray also for the animals, for the enemies of Truth, and for those who do them wrong, that they may be preserved and purified. Such a one will pray even for the reptiles, moved by the infinite pity that reigns in the hearts of those who are being united to God.”
In the way to union with God, humanity in no way leaves creatures aside, but gathers together in love for the whole cosmos disordered by sin, that it may at last be transfigured by grace.
Come, Lord Jesus