Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus 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)
Ah, the oft quoted “render unto Caesar “scriptural passage.
It is easy to take it out of context. It is just as easy to bend the words to fit the most comfortable scenario.
Over the centuries, many have taken this scripture and used it to justify living equally in two worlds: the world of secular governance and the world of the spiritual realm. Many have claimed that it imposes upon us the dual obligation of honoring civil rule as much as we honor the kingdom of God. But is that the case?
Jesus never says that in this Gospel passage. It takes further reading in this chapter of Mark to reconcile the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus spells out what is due to God — God is to be loved with all our heart, soul and mind. God is to be our first and greatest love, our primary commitment. That certainly can never be said of any human authority, be it political or otherwise. Jesus is saying that no Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.
God must have number one priority in our life, and we must be giving to Him what belongs to Him; and that is us. Gospels like this remind us that God needs to be first, and with all that He has given us, He is deserving of our whole lives.
Remember, it is okay to be responsible and to give to the world what belongs to it, but in doing so we cannot let God be second or third, He must be first and we must always be seeking to do His will all the time.
And that brings us to a deeper dimension. What if there is conflict between secular governance and the Word of God? If you believe that all you are is a gift from God, if you believe that your life must be led in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ, if you are at peace being singled out because you consciously dedicate your life to the furtherance of His kingdom, then there is no conflict. If secular governance is contrary to the word of God then we are obligated to give priority to His word. We are obligated to stand away from the crowd and declare that Jesus Christ is our savior. We are obligated to stand up and away from secular governance that leads us down a path that separates us from Him. And there are some, including this writer, who would choose ostracism and even death rather than betray Him.
Prayer of The Day
Father above we thank you for the gift of this day. Lord we praise you for all that you freely give to us; we thank you for your love and mercy; may we also be loving and merciful to others as you are to us. Lord, help us to seek you first and to not seek our own interests. Help us to live in this world and not of it. Lord we seek to do your will first and foremost; grant us the faith and courage to follow you with all that we are. We ask this all through Christ our Lord. Amen.
“He who opts for God becomes God’s dwelling place, for «if a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Jn 14:23).