“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
With this simple statement, Jesus foils the attempt of the religious authorities to trap him. To better appreciate this Sunday’s Gospel, let us put it in context.
Recall that for the past three Sundays, Jesus was criticizing the religious authorities using three parables (the two sons, the vineyard and the wedding feast). Rather than respond to the critique, the religious authorities launched a counter-attack.
It seemed like a perfect trap. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar?” They preface this with praises that Jesus is a truthful man, etc. If Jesus said “yes,” this would discredit Jesus with the Jews who considered God alone as their king. If he said “no,” they would have reported him as going against the Roman conquerors.
Jesus responds by bringing the situation to the basic truth and thus the basic value that underlies it.
In our seminary classes in scripture and in the textbooks I used teaching second year high-school religion, this incident was used to show how Jesus responded with creativity and authority, which set him apart as a teacher or preacher in his day and age.
This is what we might call as thinking—and acting—out of the box. It might be relevant, perhaps even urgent, to seriously learn from the way Jesus responded to issues and how this set him apart as a leader of his community, giving hope and life to the community, bringing people back to the basics where lie the core and depth of the truth and the values that define us as persons and as a people.
When we refer to someone as thinking and acting out of the box, there are connotations of being revolutionary, being a maverick, but let us look at it from another perspective: renewal and reform.
Thinking and acting out of the box carries a subtle connotation that there is something wrong in the status quo, namely, things have been boxed in or as we say in the vernacular, kinahon. While we do realize the need for order and routine in the day to day, we also must guard against being mechanical and falling into a mindless and, worse, soul-less routine.
Renewal and reform movement bring us back to “where-it-all-started,” the original inspiration of what we are doing and why we are doing it. This is renewal. It is regaining inspiration in our life and work.
It is from this renewal that reform will come. Thus we realize it is change not just for the sake of change, but it is change to be faithful to one’s original inspiration—one’s identity and mission, one’s “dream larger than life.” In getting rid of the box, we become truthful to one’s self and mission, to one’s dream.
Renewal is remembering our original inspiration and reconnecting with it to renew our spirit and soul and regain the perspective of “a dream larger than life.” It is going back to our true—perhaps almost always, first—love.
The past days we honored Steve Jobs and he said something about renewal and love in his famous commencement speech in Stanford (2005):
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
This is true renewal and reform, when we live our life with love—great love, the first and true love of our life.
Thinking and acting out of the box becomes hard because part of the tendency to protect the status quo is the refusal, consciously or unconsciously, to confess our mistakes; if it is a conscious refusal it could also be malicious or out of fear.
As Jobs puts it, we need to be hit “in the head with a brick” to make us realize we made mistakes and we need to acknowledge this to move on properly.
This is the reform. To put it simply, it is moving on not with the business-as-usual manner, but humbled, yes—after the confession of mistakes—and also re-inspired as we take on the task of life again.
This is the creativity and authority of Jesus. He renewed all things and he reformed all things—“Behold, I make all things new.”
I end with a somewhat disjoint thought— maybe because this is somehow reflective of my present interior journey and struggle. But I hope, to you, it will help make your reflection this Sunday more meaningful.
I was actually looking for another quote to end, but “accidentally” I turned to the page where this was:
“Sometimes an uncontrollable feeling of sadness grips us… We recognize that the magic moment of the day has passed and we’ve done nothing about it. Life begins to conceal its magic and its art… We have to listen to the child we once were, the child who still exists inside us. That child understands the magic moment. We can stifle its cries, but we cannot silence its voice… The child we once were is still there… We have to pay attention to what the child in our heart tells us.
We must allow this child to take the reins of our lives… We have to allow this child to feel loved again. We must please this child— even it means that we act in ways we are not used to, in ways that may seem foolish to others.”—Paulo Coehlo, “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept”
This is thinking and acting out of the box.