NASA recently released the largest picture ever taken. It’s made up of 411 snapshots from the Hubble telescope of our nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. The picture is 1.5 billion pixels and takes 4.3 gigs of disk space to load. It’s big. But as large as the picture is, the scene it shows is even more incredible. It shows over 100 million stars and peers 40,000 light years away from us. Breathtaking!
Fascinating information. And much like other bits of information too big for any of us to have any control over in our lives, we get to ask the legitimate question “So what?”
And the answer to that question is a statement that I have found useful in my own life as I’ve attempted to be a purposeful believer. The answer is “You don’t get extra points for being uninformed!” In other words, ignorance is rarely a virtue. Besides, the immature notion that somehow scientific facts are a threat to faith is based on a misunderstanding of both science AND faith. After all, the psalmist declares that we “are fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 138(139):14)
Plus, the power of information invites us to understanding, and understanding fosters both patience and insight into the wonders of God’s good creation. But the mere gathering of information isn’t enough. There must be a foundational reality that allows for the information to become actually more useful than winning a trivial pursuit game.
That foundational insight is revealed to us today in our Gospel Lesson.
Jesus is again in the situation He is all too often in the Gospels. He is the center of controversy with the religious leaders of His day and they are trying to trip Him up so they can discredit Him. And, as usual, they fail. Ain’t that always the way?
Read this: At that time, the chief priests and scribes sent Jesus some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to entrap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at him. Mark 12:13-17
These hypocrites start with flattery and then they lay their philosophical trap. But the Lord knows clearly His foundational reality and He throws them off once again. They bring Him a question about ultimate loyalty so they ask Him if it is lawful to pay taxes to the occupying (and very unpopular) government of Rome. He sees through their trickery and turns them and their question upside down. “Bring me a coin” He says. Then He asks them “whose face is on this coin?” They respond “Caesar’s.” So He tells them “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
But that presupposes one knows what belongs to this world and what belongs to God, doesn’t it? This ability to “render to Caesar” AND render to God presupposes a level of discernment and humility and courage that sets one free to be able to distinguish between these realities. And it would probably be wise to not answer too quickly.
Do you have a clear picture as to what your priorities should be regarding your everyday life of bills, career, family, and society AND your daily devotion to God? The insight into that balanced life will determine your ability to both learn from past mistakes and helpfully evaluate your priorities. That means exercising your energies daily in knowing God and His will for your life must simply always be at the TOP of your list of priorities. Your ability to govern the rest of your life depends on your prioritizing your faith as the foundational principle of your everyday living.
Today, let one of your internal inventory tasks be to evaluate just where on your list of priorities your faith rests. Allowing the Spirit of God and the faith of the Church to help you take in the magnitude of your own universe and set you free to never value the foolish notion that “ignorance is bliss” but embrace an examined and purposeful life. Wisely choose to practice your faith in daily prayer, scripture reading, regular worship, and frequent confession, so that life will not take you by surprise but you will be ready for whatever life has to offer. This is the way of wisdom. This is being Orthodox on Purpose.