In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In the twenty-second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we see that the Pharisees are much troubled by the ministry of Our Lord Jesus Christ. From their perspective, He has upset already too many of their finely polished apple carts. He is revealing the hypocrisy behind so much of their outward religious posturing, and so they are looking somehow to entangle Him. In the Psalms, we often ask God for the enemies of our soul to trip themselves in the traps they have set privily for us. In so doing, we shall be protected from them, but even more so they shall be revealed for whom they truly serve. Their pretense of sincerity will be shown to be what it is: An ill fitted mask donned not in the service of God, but for the conceits of the devil. The revelation saves us from them, but in being exposed it also gives them the chance to seek redemption. With God, justice is always the occasion of mercy, and when we are shown to be liars and hypocrites we are exposed as the lost sheep in desperate need of Our Shepherd. Glory to God, indeed, that He allows for the truth to stumble out from when we fall before our own sordid machinations. We choose whether or not to heed the lesson, but the opportunity is there, for God’s mercy outlasts all the twisted logic and dark obsessions with which we may indulge ourselves.
So consider what the Pharisees really reveal, when they try to entangle Christ Jesus with their question about paying tribute to Caesar. The Pharisees say, “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man; for thou regardest not the person of men.” First, they claim that they know He is true. Not that they suspect it, nor that they are open to the possibility, but that they know. If we take their comments at face value, then really what they are saying is that even when they know something is true, they refuse to accept it for what it is. They insist on questioning the truth, on trying to undermine it with their own word play, and therefore on showing the world that they are the masters over truth. This is the first sin: Eating the forbidden fruit, so that they may know as God knows. For as with God wisdom is subject unto Him, so sinful man insists that wisdom must be subject to his own mortal pride and passions. For sinful man, truth is not there to be served, but to be subdued. If truth serves us, rather than we serving truth, then that servile truth is really nothing more than a glossy coat with which we adorn our own imagination. It is nothing more than an opinion upheld not with facts and reason but more often than not by the pointed end of a bayonet. If you really want peace, then serve what is true, most especially when we learn that the truth is too inconvenient or even painful to bear without God’s grace holding up our heads and strengthening our hearts for the occasion.
Secondly, the Pharisees claim that Christ Jesus teaches the truth, because He has no regard for the person of men. On the surface level, this seems to be a true statement. God’s truth is what it is and applies equally to a man of high authority, like Caesar, as to an outcast leper. On a deeper level, though, the Pharisees are wrong, for they are implying that God’s truth is indifferent to and extraneous from “the person of men.” They are saying in essence that God is in His world, and man is in his own, and that devising God’s truth therefore means extracting ourselves from the world of men to behold God uncluttered from our own earthly life and concerns.
We see here the temptation every religious ascetic faces. It is the temptation not to renounce our sins, but to renounce the world as intrinsically and irretrievably fallen. It is the temptation also to see ourselves as set apart from the fallen world, and from the vast majority of people whom we write off as ignorant or perverse, not in virtue of God’s grace, but in virtue of ourselves. There is something so special about us that we alone may know God in truth, or so we think. We say that God has chosen us, but when we are emboldened by our own sin we really have chosen ourselves. If this is the case, then we presume we do not need God to redeem us. We can do all that well enough ourselves, thank you, with our own false gods and our fashionable opinions. If the true God insists upon showing Himself in this perverse kingdom we have built for ourselves, then we shall cast Him into the dock, as C.S. Lewis tells us. We shall be so bold as to crucify Him as a chief criminal undermining our comfortable illusions.
The truth is the opposite of what the Pharisees here are saying. We are able to know God in truth not apart from men, but through the life of a man, His Only Son and Our Savior, Jesus Christ. We come face to face with God by beholding the tortured face of a condemned criminal. We learn wisdom from the teachings and the examples of the man whose ministry is so much at odds with the perceived wisdom of the times. We learn how to conform our lives to God from the life of a most feared nonconformist. God’s truth is not an airy-fairy set of ideas distilled from the ether. His truth is what we experience when we embrace the suffering stranger, feed the hungry, spend time with the lonely, and care for those who have no one else to care for them. Contrary to what the Pharisees have said, we can come to know God’s truth only when we are encountering directly “the person of men.” Like the tributes rendered unto Caesar, we each carry on us the superscription of our own soul. We are noble in character, or we are perverse in sin. We are healthy in spirit, or we are diseased in depravity. Most likely, we are a combination of all of these, and so like the images on the coins we cannot but reveal to everyone else who we are and to whom we serve. As Christ Jesus reminds us, “For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” We shall be rendered to whom we serve. God’s justice demands this, and His mercy is to render us to whom we may choose to be rendered. If our souls make manifest that we choose Caesar, then He is going to render us unto Caesar. If our souls make manifest that we choose God, then He is going to render us unto Himself through the all loving intercession of His Son.
Like those who engraved Caesar’s images on coins, we engrave our true selves on all aspects of our life. What we say, what we do, how we think, no matter in public or in private, all of this is carved on our flesh and in our blood. Christ Jesus acknowledges this when He cures someone of their physical diseases or afflictions by first freeing them from their sins. He is not denying the physiological cause of their ailments, nor is He renouncing the use of medical treatments. Rather, He is teaching us that grace is sacramental. If rejected, then that rejection will be realized as severe physical and mental hardship. If accepted in thanksgiving, then no matter the afflictions we may experience with our mortal bodies, we shall realize that divine grace in its fullest in our glorified bodies to come. As Saint Paul explains in his Epistle to the Philippians, “For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of His glory.”
Christ Jesus states earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” We can relate this to the engraved superscription on the coins. If we ask for God, then we shall bear literally on our flesh and in our blood the superscription of a soul asking for God. If so, then what we ask shall be given unto us, and we shall be rendered unto God. If we seek God, and bear the superscription of a person seeking God, then indeed we shall find God and be rendered unto Him. If we knock on God’s heavenly door, and bear the superscription of a person who has no other purpose than to attend to His eternal feast, then that door will be opened unto us, and we shall be rendered unto Him.
God loves us. He wants to share the fullness of His truth with us. He wants us to be students of His wisdom, so that we may learn to walk upright in His Kingdom and to worship Him in praise and thanksgiving. He wants us to come unto Him of our own free will, for there is no other way we may approach him lovingly. As such, He gives us the free will to engrave the superscription of our souls on everything we say and we do. He allows us to fashion our lives as a tribute either to Himself or to Caesar. Pray earnestly that we may engrave ourselves to be rendered unto God. Our life is the most precious stone, and we have been gifted the tools with which to carve out the picture of our soul. Chisel the most beautiful superscription you can, and have faith that the Holy Ghost can and will repair any and all blemishes left over if only you give Him permission to do so. In Christ Jesus, we have been given all we need to be a tribute unto His Father, and so let us not forsake through sin and indifference how we may craft our lives for Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.