‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’About 2,000 years ago in Palestine, under the rule of the Roman Empire, Jesus, the son of God, advocated the coming of heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” However, the Pharisees, who followed the existing Jewish laws, considered Jesus’ teachings heretical.
Discontented Pharisees went to Jesus and asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” It was a trap. If Jesus told them to pay taxes, he would be acknowledging the colonial rule of the Roman Empire. If he told them not to pay, he would be encouraging them to fight against Rome. But Jesus instructed, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” The Pharisees had no response and left.
As the Mass conducted by senior priest Park Chang-shin of the left-wing Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice on Nov. 22 has created great controversy, Christians need to meditate on the teachings of Jesus from 2,000 years ago. Jesus said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” to show that his teachings are not decisions on political and social issues. The calling of Jesus as Messiah was not made for reasons of mundane power, but was accomplished by sacrificing himself to save humanity. Jesus said, “Love thy enemies,” not “overthrow them.”
The Zealots who were fighting against the Roman Empire expected Jesus to liberate the people. However, because the philosophy of Jesus transcended politics, the Zealots were disappointed. Bible scholars presume that’s why Judas Iscariot, a Zealot, betrayed Jesus. After the death of Jesus, the Zealots were surrounded by Roman soldiers in the fortress of Masada, where they all committed suicide.
In contrast, Jesus, who was shunned by both the ruling class and the resistance group, and killed tragically, continues to be considered the most influential person in human history today. The message of Jesus was for all humanity, beyond the political and social circumstances of the time. This is the essence of religion.
The Rev. Park courted criticism by raising the question of North Korea’s apparent involvement in the bombing of the Cheonan and stating that North Korea’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island on the tense maritime border was understandable.
His claims are hard to understand. But his more fundamental mistake was to package a political speech as a religious sermon. He would be equally wrong to praise the Park Geun-hye administration instead. A man of religion can make political arguments, but he should take off his robe at least when he speaks of politics.
The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by KIM JUNG-HA