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  • 1. ARTICLE BY THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVIIN THE FINANCIAL TIMESA time for Christians to engage with theworld"Render unto Caesar what belongs toCaesar and to God what belongs to God,"was the response of Jesus when askedabout paying taxes. His questioners, ofcourse, were laying a trap for him. Theywanted to force him to take sides in thehighly-charged political debate aboutRoman rule in the land of Israel. Yetthere was more at stake here: if Jesusreally was the long-awaited Messiah,then surely he would oppose the Romanoverlords. So the question wascalculated to expose him either as athreat to the regime, or a fraud.Jesus’ answer deftly moves the argumentto a higher plane, gently cautioningagainst both the politicization ofreligion and the deification of temporalpower, along with the relentless pursuitof wealth. His audience needed to bereminded that the Messiah was notCaesar, and Caesar was not God. Thekingdom that Jesus came to establish wasof an altogether higher order. As he 1
  • 2. told Pontius Pilate, "My kingship is notof this world."The Christmas stories in the NewTestament are intended to convey asimilar message. Jesus was born during a"census of the whole world" taken byCaesar Augustus, the Emperor renownedfor bringing the Pax Romana to all thelands under Roman rule. Yet this infant,born in an obscure and far-flung cornerof the Empire, was to offer the world afar greater peace, truly universal inscope and transcending all limitationsof space and time.Jesus is presented to us as King David’sheir, but the liberation he brought tohis people was not about holding hostilearmies at bay; it was about conqueringsin and death forever.The birth of Christ challenges us toreassess our priorities, our values, ourvery way of life. While Christmas isundoubtedly a time of great joy, it isalso an occasion for deep reflection,even an examination of conscience. Atthe end of a year that has meanteconomic hardship for many, what can welearn from the humility, the poverty,the simplicity of the crib scene?Christmas can be the time in which welearn to read the Gospel, to get to knowJesus not only as the Child in the 2
  • 3. manger, but as the one in whom werecognize God made Man.It is in the Gospel that Christians findinspiration for their daily lives andtheir involvement in worldly affairs –be it in the Houses of Parliament or theStock Exchange. Christians shouldn’tshun the world; they should engage withit. But their involvement in politicsand economics should transcend everyform of ideology.Christians fight poverty out of arecognition of the supreme dignity ofevery human being, created in God’simage and destined for eternal life.Christians work for more equitablesharing of the earth’s resources out ofa belief that, as stewards of God’screation, we have a duty to care for theweakest and most vulnerable. Christiansoppose greed and exploitation out of aconviction that generosity and selflesslove, as taught and lived by Jesus ofNazareth, are the way that leads tofullness of life. Christian belief inthe transcendent destiny of every humanbeing gives urgency to the task ofpromoting peace and justice for all.Because these goals are shared by somany, much fruitful cooperation ispossible between Christians and others.Yet Christians render to Caesar onlywhat belongs to Caesar, not what belongs 3
  • 4. to God. Christians have at timesthroughout history been unable to complywith demands made by Caesar. From theEmperor cult of ancient Rome to thetotalitarian regimes of the lastcentury, Caesar has tried to take theplace of God. When Christians refuse tobow down before the false gods proposedtoday, it is not because of anantiquated world-view. Rather, it isbecause they are free from theconstraints of ideology and inspired bysuch a noble vision of human destinythat they cannot collude with anythingthat undermines it.In Italy, many crib scenes feature theruins of ancient Roman buildings in thebackground. This shows that the birth ofthe child Jesus marks the end of the oldorder, the pagan world, in whichCaesar’s claims went virtuallyunchallenged. Now there is a new king,who relies not on the force of arms, buton the power of love. He brings hope toall those who, like himself, live on themargins of society. He brings hope toall who are vulnerable to the changingfortunes of a precarious world. From themanger, Christ calls us to live ascitizens of his heavenly kingdom, akingdom that all people of good will canhelp to build here on earth. 4