Whose World Is It, Anyway?

Then Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).


Read Matthew 22:15-22





Somewhere in the ether of wise sayings, I hear this phrase of Jesus cited once in a while.  (Or it’s older translation, “Render unto Caesar…”)  Rarely, do I hear it used it in context, or with any understanding of the story.  Rather, it is used as an end-all to an argument.  A definitive proclamation.  After this phrase is invoked, there is nothing more to say.  About taxes.  Or politics.  Or money in general.


But what exactly does this phrase mean?  That there are two universes, one the emperor’s, and one God’s, and keep ‘em separate at all costs? 


That there are two worlds—one secular and filled with nothing that is good–and one religious–that is the source of all good?


I’m not sure Jesus’ world view was quite so schizophrenic or simplistic.  In many other recorded stories of Jesus life and healing ministry, we can be quite certain that Jesus sees good in the “secular” world and in “secular” people, and that he sees evil in the “religious” world and the “religious” people.  Though there are distinctions in our loyalties—between God and the state, let’s say—they are not unbridgeable gulfs. 


Rather, in this pithy retort to his accusers, Jesus answers their question about taxes by saying one is penultimate (the emperor, whose power is limited) and one is ultimate (God, whose power is unlimited).  From this we can know that God works through the powers in our world—but is not limited by or subject to them.



God, source of all of our powers,

bridge the divides we erect in our hearts, souls, and worlds…and yes, even the divides we love the most: our politics.  Amen.

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