Christianity is caught, not taught

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Christianity is caught, not taught
4 December, 2009
1 Timothy 4:4-8, 16 ; Luke 20:19-26

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Behind the question that was posed to our Saviour today about paying taxes to Caesar or not, was the understanding (in the context of occupied Israel) that the people of Israel should keep themselves separate, unique, and clearly apart from the Roman army, apart from the Gentile people. They attempted to keep their society completely distinct and perhaps sealed off (one could say). They were not able to do that, but there was an attempt in principle to manage to do this. Paying taxes to Caesar was considered by people in general to be some sort of traitorous act. Therefore they were asking our Saviour : “‘Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’”

We are not living in Utopia or some sort of insulated environment. Our Lord has told us in many places that we have to live in this world as yeast and as salt (see Matthew 5:13; 13:33). We have to interact with the world. In fact, the words of the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy this morning were saying quite rightly that everything that God created is good. We have to live in this world, and foster the goodness of God in this world, and bring His life, His love and His healing to this world. We cannot set ourselves off from the world. We have to exert a positive influence on the world. As much as we can, we have to bring to bear God’s love upon this world so that its proper order can be restored as much as possible by the Lord (not by us).

Our Lord says today to the questioners who were trying to trap Him : “‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’”. This is because the image of Caesar was on the coinage that belonged to him. Our Lord is telling us that we have to render what is due to the civil governing authorities whoever they happen to be, whether they be Christian or not. Wherever we happen to live as Orthodox Christians, the state is the state ; the world is the world (in its own context), and we have to give the world its due as far as things that are required for living in the world (such as taxes). However, we still have to remember that being in the world we are not of the world. We can be in the Roman Empire (as our Lord is saying to the questioners) but not be of the spirit of the Roman Empire. The fruit of that is demonstrated in the eventual Christianising of the Roman Empire. Fencing ourselves off from the world in which we live does not produce anything except our own death. We have to live actively and positively in the environment in which the Lord has placed us. We have to be true to the Lord. We have to be true to the Gospel. At the same time, the world in which we live is starving for the truth, starving for this love that the Saviour gives to you and to me, starving for the joy that we have in His love. They can only receive it by being in contact with us.

Christianity is caught, not taught. We can speak about it, but we cannot bring a person to be a Christian simply by speaking and teaching. The person who might become a Christian usually encounters God’s love, encounters Him in His love, and encounters Him primarily in, and through us. This is how they encounter Him : by our bearing of Him wherever we are, whatever we are doing. It is the love of God that is alive in us that gives us the hope and the joy that others catch from us. In other words, it is not something that we can draw them into merely by teaching. Other people have to encounter the Lord personally, as we all have to encounter the Lord, and live in and with the Lord personally. I say “personally” because He is a Person, and we are persons in His image. The relationship that is amongst us is a relationship of love.

We do not refer to this relationship as some people do in our society when they talk about Jesus Christ as being their “personal Saviour”. That sounds like ownership to my ears when people say : “Jesus Christ is my personal Saviour”. Already, when I say “my” that sounds as though He belongs to me and that He is my property, somehow. It is bizarre that I could have any ownership of the Word of God. Certainly, I have to confess Jesus Christ to be the Saviour. I personally confess Him to be the Saviour. However, He certainly does not belong to me. I belong to Him. The English language is odd in this regard. If we are not careful how we speak, we can convey something that we are not exactly trying to say.

What is important is understanding who is Who. He is the Lord of the whole universe. He is the Lord of those who do not even accept Him. He is the Creator of those who do not acknowledge Him. That is why rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s is not a catastrophe at all. The Lord permits Caesar to have his authority, or He blesses it in some way. The Lord acts through these civil authorities also, as the Apostle Paul reminds us (see Titus 3:1).

Therefore, all this is simply to say that we should keep our hearts and minds focussed on the Lord, on our responsibility as Christians in our society and there where we have been planted. By the Lord’s mercy, by His Grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, let us be living examples of Christ’s love. May we be able in everything to glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.