( A commentary on Mark 12: 13-17)
They sent some Pharisees and Herodians to him to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him. (Mark 12:13-17)
We humans are a strange lot. We go through all sorts of gyrations to twist a piece of logic. We hide behind slogans so that what we really believe can be covered up. We use labels to define us as well as to segregate others.
Trickery abounds and its most sad when it’s used to delude ourselves.
In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees were convinced they could trip up Jesus. They didn’t of course.
The answer given by Jesus is pregnant with meaning for you and for me. On its face, it has been used to justify the doctrine of the separation of church and state. But that’s the obvious answer.
What if we take it to a different level . . . to a different question? What belongs to God? That’s an easy one. Everything belongs to God. It is He who has given you and I all that we are and all that we have.
From that rock bed of thought, the separation of church and state does not apply to God, because God cannot be separated from creation or from all of humanity.
When we read this passage in this way, it is a reminder of our responsibility to exercise our rights to express the values that flow from our belief in God.
As followers of Jesus, we must approach things with a worldview. It is not sufficient for us only to be concerned about our country and “our people”, because God has created all people and has given to each person a basic human dignity. We must recognize that we belong to each other, within and outside of our geographic borders.
When people are persecuted, or hunted down or even murdered because they are of a different belief system, or of a different race, or of a different nationality, that is our concern, our collective concern.
Ignoring that might be okay with Caesar but it is not okay with God.
We must also be people concerned about the least among us. Anyone who knows the teaching of Jesus understands that Jesus’ ministry was among the most marginalized of people. As we examine national policies, we cannot ignore the child within his mother’s womb, the family without access to healthcare, or adopt a tax program that ignores the needs of the poorest among us.
Doing that might be okay with Caesar, but it is not okay with God.
Adopting a worldview and showing concern for the least among us is not partisan. It is not political and it should never be used to justify a label.
The only source of abiding trust and faithfulness is our trust in God. God alone has made us, saved us, and promised to be with us. God alone will prove trustworthy in good times and in bad, in boom and in bust. As we face the future, we have to put our trust in God.
Jesus is calling us to a different way of living. He says to us, “Give to God the things that are God’s.” The gift that Jesus is asking of us is ourselves, and our supreme task in life is to make our lives fit to offer to him and with him for others.
That may not be okay with Caesar but it sure is okay with God.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; because you have promised so much, I owe you all my being. Moreover, I owe you as much more love than myself as you are greater than I, for whom you gave yourself and to whom you promised yourself. I pray you, Lord, make me taste by love what I taste by knowledge; let me know by love what I know by understanding. I owe you more than my whole self, but I have no more, and by myself I cannot render the whole of it to you. Draw me to you, Lord, in the fullness of love. I am wholly yours by creation; make me all yours, too, in love.” (Prayer of Anselm, 1033-1109)
We, too, have been stamped with God’s image since we are created in his own likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). We rightfully belong, not to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul the Apostle says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1). Do you acknowledge that your life belongs to God and not to yourself? And do you give to God what rightfully belongs to Him?