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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

What Actually Belongs To Caesar?

For many, Jesus was supposed to be a political messiah who would free the Jews from Roman persecution. Many were annoyed when he was not political at all like the previous messiahs, but instead preached about changing oneself.

One day his enemies tried to pin him on a political question. They assumed Jesus, who many saw as the one who would overthrow the Romans, would be against paying taxes to their oppressors. So by getting him to publicly admit this they hoped they could get the Romans to see him as a threat and take action against him. They asked him what he felt about paying taxes to the oppressive tyrants who had stolen their land and sovereignty. The response was brilliant and profound. Pointing to Caesar’s face on a coin he said:

"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's"

We should not just look at the surface level of this response. That's what the Romans did. Stop and ask “What things are Gods? What things are Caesars?” Many assume that Jesus is saying that money belongs to Caesar. And in some sense Jesus did see the coin as part of this temporal world, and his Kingdom was "not of this world". But many seem to forget that what belongs to God is EVERYTHING. Rather than an endorsement of taxation by tyrants, his response was an escape from a trap question that still spoke the truth. This clever answer seemed adequate to the Romans listening because they did not understand what he was saying. Jesus was NOT justifying or ignoring the Roman oppression. Instead he realized they had no idea what he expected his followers to render to God - EVERYTHING.

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other, Ye cannot serve God and mammon."

So why did Jesus and his followers NOT overtly resist the Roman political oppression. Because doing so would not work. Jesus knew what would ultimately not only bring down Roman oppression, but all oppression. He rightly understood that systems are built by people. So he focused on changing people at their deepest level knowing that those people would then change those systems.

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature." - Ezra Taft Benson

Ultimately, people with hearts full of love for God and their fellow man, will create good systems and end tyranny. Not by coercion, but through the subversive power of love and voluntary cooperation because love undermines the human will to power. It was Christ's differentiation between the temporal and spiritual that transformed the thinking of the western world. It helped people realize that while systems may be necessary, they are not the real answer.

"We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other" - John Adams The societies in which many of us live have for more than a generation failed to foster moral discipline. They have taught that truth is relative and that everyone decides for himself or herself what is right. Concepts such as sin and wrong have been condemned as “value judgments.” As the Lord describes it, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god” (D&C 1:16). As a consequence, self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments. One columnist observed that “gentlemanly behavior [for example, once] protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior. …Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.” - D Todd Christofferson

So in a world that obsesses with social systems, Christ rightfully pointed out that the best systems in the world are no match for the unrestrained will to power inherent in the human soul. So he proposed to change our souls. He wanted to give us a new heart. He proposed love as the ultimate antidote to the human will to power. He proposed that ultimately it is the spiritual, not the temporal that reigns in the affairs of the world.

A question to ponder: Are the problems we see in the world today really rooted primarily in systems or the hearts and minds of the masses that control those systems?

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