“Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. Loosely interpreted, we commonly hear that “We come into the world with nothing and we will leave the world with nothing. Hence we should not be too attached to the things of this world”. This is a half-truth.
We came into the world with the gift of life, clothed in the image of our Creator. We were chosen. “I have called you by your name”. We are born with a capacity for good, to contribute and make a difference in this world. When we are done with ‘Caesar’s world’, we need to “give back to God what belongs to God”. What belongs to God is the gift of life and when we are done we give back to him an account of how we too have been this gift of life; of how we have been life-giving to people in this world.
We are born naked. The first gift we receive from ‘Caesar’s world’ are clothes that will protect us from the physical elements. It covers us up, both protecting and at the same time, exposing our self-consciousness. As we grow into Caesar’s world, we grow in our consciousness of self. It is in this growth that what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God comes into sharp contrast. By becoming too conscious of self, we invite into God’s world elements of self-gratification, selfishness, greed and other moral elements that contribute to the contrast.
We are born into Caesar’s world to co-exist. Not everything is bad in this world. With the gift of life, we are born into a responsibility of preserving the goodness of life, that which belongs to God. However to fulfil this responsibility we need to be naked.
Our spirit must remain naked. We must be naked from self-giving love. We have to shed the clothes of self-consciousness and expose ourselves and be vulnerable. To love that stranger, to call him neighbour and to give from self, demands from us a generosity that we need to draw deep from our capacity to be good. We were created this way for this purpose. We were all like that once before until the snake came along with the apple.
We need to navigate Caesar’s world to give back to God what belongs to God. We need to negotiate our way amidst the danger of the many snakes and inevitably we will fail at times and eat the apple. “What belongs to God” in us will tell us when we do what is not good. We will react by reaching for the fig leaf to cover our shame. This is good self-consciousness and this awareness help pick us up again and again and to drop that fig leaf.
Drop that fig leaf and remain naked. Caesar’s world runs a tough test for us to preserve what belongs to God. If we do not continue to shed the fig leaf and be naked in self-giving, we will soon realize that an accumulation of fig leaves will clothed us in moral wrongdoings. We will shed life, lose the capacity for good and die in Caesar’s world.
When we stand at the door of the heavenly banquet hall, we must come without our fig leaf, naked and clothed only in the likeness of our Creator. It is true that we are born with nothing and we die with nothing. It is nothing from Caesar’s world but we came with something from God: Life and goodness. We must still have these to give back to him what belongs to him at the end of time in “Caesar’s world”.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time