What is the danger in the saying: Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?
It is a trap, cleverly set for Jesus. If Jesus says “Yes, pay your taxes” he alienates his base. If he says “No, refuse to pay Caesar’s tax” he incites the Romans to arrest him as a rabble rousing zealot. What does he say? You can quote our Lord’s answer as well as I can: “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” I can almost hear us all say, “Yep, learned that as a child. Pay your taxes, obey the law, give Caesar his due but also give God what is God’s. Homily over. God’s stuff belongs <<Here>>. Caesar’s stuff belongs <<Here>>. I got that.
It is so easy to think of that in our western, compartmentalized mindset. Keep life predicable, under control, manageable. This part belongs here, and that part there. The God/churchy stuff belongs here. The Caesar stuff belongs here.
But was Jesus ever about such an easy answer? And is it ever so cut and dried?
“I am personally opposed to (fill in the blank – Abortion, the Death Penalty, Privitized or public health care…) but I don’t want to impose my view on others.” We know that debate. On some level, we are very much aware that it is never an easy truce between faith and the state; between our belief and what that belief calls us to in our day to day living. And, if we carefully consider the words of Jesus, about repaying to God what is God’s, we realize that everything is God’s.
- our lives
- our minds
- our body and our senses
- the land in which we live, the air that we breathe,
- the people who love us
- the faith that allows us to know God.
It is all belongs to God. It is all a gift. And to compartmentalize things as if only some of it belongs to God and the rest to Caesar, is to miss the point of Jesus’ comment. Sure, it is a clever way to get out of the trap that is set for him. But more than that, set in the temple, the week before He dies for our salvation, it becomes a clarion call to say no more boxes, no more categorizing – all you are and hope to be belongs to God…
So, practically speaking, what does that look like? Here is one application. You will read in my pastor’s pen the latest development in the tradition of the church. On Oct. 11, in an address about revising the 1993 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Francis told us of the developing understanding of the doctrine on the sanctity of life. Namely, that the death penalty is off the table for us who take our Lord’s message about the sanctity of life seriously. It had been just barely ‘acceptable’ in the last version/update of the Catechism of the Catholic church. When the catechism was last revised, Pope John Paul II stated that, given our modern prisons and ways to keep society safe, he can only barely imagine a situation when the death penalty would be needed. Pope Francis now invites us to know – the death penalty has moved from a ‘barely acceptable practice’ to a ‘never-acceptable practice’. This stand will not be without its critics both inside and outside the church. But if we are to not compartmentalize God in a box, then we need to wrap our arms around what our Holy Father is teaching us.
Give to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s. We know that saying. And now, perhaps, we realize the danger in it as well. If we use that as an excuse to keep God out of all the parts of our life, then somehow, we missed the entire point.. This week, as often as you hold a bit of change in your hands, a coin with an image that is not our God’s – let it be a call – to remember in all things, we all belong to God – and therefore, we need to get to work to bring that kingdom into being…