“Christians render to Caesar only what belongs to Caesar, not what belongs to God.”
On December 20, at their request, the Editors of the London Financial Times published a column by Benedict XVI. In the L’Osservatore Romano reprint (January 3, 2013), it was entitled “Christians Without Compromise.” At the end of the column, the Financial Times’ editors amusingly, in my view, succinctly identify the author as “The Bishop of Rome and author of Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” Obviously, the title “Bishop of Rome” is accurate. But it is also in conformity with Anglican theology, which does not recognize the Primacy Office of Peter continuing in the present Pope.
The Pope began his comments by citing what is certainly the most famous and consequential passage in the New Testament about politics, namely, the “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (see Mt 22:15-22). Benedict immediately pointed out that this response had to do with the legitimacy of paying taxes. It was asked to “trap” Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to draw Christ into current politics by presenting Him with a dilemma. If He was the awaited Messiah, surely He would oppose Roman occupation of Palestine. Thus He was “either a threat to the regime or a fraud.”
Jesus’ response avoided the trap. At the same time, He raised the level of discourse for both the Romans and the Jews. Implicitly, Jesus warned about the “politicizing of religion and the deification of the state.” Both politics and religion have a proper place. They need not be enemies except when either politicization or deification occurs. The Jews needed to recognize their Messiah would not be a Caesar. The Romans needed to know their Caesar was not God. Jesus did come to establish a “Kingdom.” But it would be of a “higher order.” At His trial, He told Pilate bluntly that His Kingdom was not “of this world.”
Next, Benedict turns to the “Christmas stories in the New Testament.” A similar message is found here. Jesus’s birth takes place in Bethlehem because of a census edict of Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of the Romans. He brought all the conquered lands into some form of higher administrative unity. Christ is born in an obscure place in this Empire. He would open to the world a “far greater peace” than that of the Pax Romana. The peace that Christ offers “transcends the limitations of space and time.”
How so? How is Jesus presented in the New Testament? He is the “heir” of King David.” His liberation is not about armies and conquering enemies. Rather it deals with freeing us from “sin and death