By Rev. Kate Braestrup
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s…”
Upon hearing Jesus utter those words, Matthew tells us that the Pharisees are “amazed.” They marveled greatly, their gast was flabbered and off they went to discuss this novel idea.
We aren’t amazed because we have grown up in a society (founded upon Jewish and Christian ideas) in which church and state are separate, this being yet another of those rare and fragile circumstances we are privileged to take for granted.
Fragile, I say, because the tendency to render unto Caesar that which rightfully belongs to God is awfully strong. In Jesus’ time, Caesar—-head of the Roman empire—-was seen by pagan Romans as a kind of demi-God himself, capable of communion and even kinship with the actual Gods. Caesar, naturally, encouraged his people to see him this way, to worship and obey him; the Caesars and mini-Caesars of this world will ever hope to harness the power of God to themselves, to augment their own.
Whenever and wherever they rule and whomever they rule over, Caesars and Caesarettes tend to share certain characteristics. A Caesar will have some capacity to exert physical force—-maybe he’s physically bigger than most people, or has a bunch of guys with guns who will arrest, imprison or kill you if you don’t do what Caesar wants.
But it’s not all “stick” with Caesar, he has carrots too. Caesar provides good boys and girls with stuff that makes life easier, better and more fun: Roads and bridges, opportunities to make money, cool parties. Caesar can open doors, grant favors, bestow lucrative contacts, establish sinecures and generally perform the sort of miracles that tempt any ordinary mortal to overlook those big clay feet.
And when the miracle you’re after isn’t for you personally, when the society you live in could really do with some improvements —-in terms of social justice, say—- then the thoughts and prayers you toss to God are all well and good… but Caesar is the real rainmaker, amiright?
Five years ago, the actress Meryl Streep called Harvey Weinstein “God” when giving thanks for a Golden Globe award. She was joking…sort of.
Harvey Weinstein was a movie producer, a star maker, a mogul and a man far more frequently and fervently thanked at various Hollywood awards events—-Oscars, Emmys—- than than actual God. And why not? Newsweek describes him as “an Oscar machine. He made careers and money for countless directors and actors which, in Hollywood, is enough to overlook [sic] very bad behavior.”
“Countless directors and actors” —-Ms. Streep and Tarantino, Damon, Cluny, Pitt, Paltrow—-overlooked very bad behavior. Why? Because Weinstein was, as one pundit put it, “Hollywood’s own Henry the 8th.” Or, as I might put it Weinstein was Caesar.
And not just to actors and directors. In an interview, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown explained exactly how Weinstein controlled reporters in the mainstream media. The man made miracles happen.
“If there was any stirring of a negative story [about him] Harvey would offer … a book contract, a development deal, a consultancy, and they used to succumb. Journalists are often short of money, and they were also very star-struck with the world that Harvey offered, which was movies and Hollywood.”
And it wasn’t just reporters and editors either: the miracle-maker was a huge donor to various causes, and over the years, he gave millions to the Obama campaigns, to all the Clinton campaigns, to the Clinton Foundation and (when need arose) to the Clintons’ legal defense funds. Last year, he raised $1.8 million in a single, New York party thrown for Hillary.
Harvey Weinstein could, as the psalmist would say, level the mountains, break down gates of bronze, cut through bars of iron and give you hidden treasures…
The psalmist sings of God. With all due respect to Meryl Streep, Harvey Weinstein was not God. He was a bully and a violent sexual predator.
That’s on him. His sins are his responsibility, and we can but hope that his victims receive good care and justice.
What responsibility, however, should be born by those who all-but-worshipped him and certainly endured, excused and covered up his crimes? The question is not just the one our bloody human history always asks of bystanders, “what did they know and when did they know it,” but why? What was wrong with these people?
There are no doubt explanations, though few excuses. Theirs is a strange and glamorous world, with strange obsessions and pressures. (I, for one, am very glad today that I get to live in small-town Maine with a lot of truly beautiful people.)
But idolatry is a human temptation not exclusive to Hollywood. Any human being who renders unto a Caesar that which is owed only to God will not and cannot change Caesar. He will be who he is. She will, however, change herself.
The early Christian author Tertullian says that when you hand over to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, you “give to Caesar his image stamped upon his coin, and give to God His own image stamped upon you; so that while you render to Caesar the coin which is his due, you may render your own self to God.”
If you allow him to do so, any Caesar will inevitably stamp his image upon you: He will make you more and more and more like him.
Dwellers in glittering worlds rendered unto Weinstein the things that are God’s: the attention, the worship, the obedience, body and soul placed in Weinstein’s hands because he claimed the power to re-create them, the power to transform human beings into stars. Yet, idolized, Weinstein could only make more idols. He stamped his image upon them and he made them like unto him.
Well, we could discuss the fortunes and misfortunes of Harvey Weinstein and his enablers all day and call it exegesis rather than salacious gossip…instead, let his be yet another cautionary tale, undergirding the truth that bears repeating: That it is in yielding to God’s power and only God’s that we find our own power. That when we give our obedience and worship, our very selves to God and only to God, we receive ourselves in return. That God and only God created and still creates us, forms and stamps us in God’s own image.
We may think that our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of the heart — but it will out. That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshiping, for what we are worshiping we are becoming. — Attributed to Emerson
Copyright 2017 © Kate Braestrup