There is a story about a father who gave his little daughter two dollars on a Thanksgiving Day with the following instruction, “You can do anything you want with one of the dollars, but the other dollar belongs to God.” With so much happiness the little girl ran to a nearby shop to help herself with a bar of chocolate with one dollar. As she was running, she tripped, and one dollar fell into the drainage. She got up immediately and said, “God that one belongs to you go for it!” She continued her journey to buy herself a chocolate bar.
Today, we have a fascinating message about giving to Caesar and giving to God. Giving is one of the three attributes we share with God; the others are forgiving and loving. To give is to let go what should instead be ours to another. There are many things that we could give apart from money and other material things. A very common instruction challenges us to give our three “Ts,” treasure, time, and talent. Beyond these, our giving should be unconditional, that means it should be motivated by love because love is God’s greatest gift to us (John 3:16; 1Cor 13:13).
The Gospel Reading today (Matt.22:15-21), tells us about the joint conspiracy against our Lord Jesus Christ by two extreme groups; the Pharisees (an apparently religious group) and the Herodians (a secular organization). The joint team came to our Lord with a closed-ended question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If our Lord says yes, he would be pleasing the Herodians and offend the Pharisees, and the reverse would be the case if he says no.
Cognizant of the plot, our Lord requests for a coin and looking at it he asked them whose inscription was there and they said, that of Caesar, and he says to them: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.” We need to pay attention to our Lord’s response here; he says “repay” that means giving back after receiving. Next, we need to ask: “What are the things that belong to Caesar and what are the things that belong to God?”
REPAYING God and Caesar:
Like we briefly described above, to repay means to give back what one has received either as a loan or by the obligation of reciprocity. If we could ask, “what did God give to the people and what did Caesar give to them that would warrant a repayment?”.
- God created them in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27).
- God gives them life (Psalm 36:9)
- God protects them (Psalm 91:1-2)
- God provides their needs (Phil. 4:19)
- God heals and saves them (Jer.17:14)
What about Caesar? He was Caesar Tiberius (c.42 B.C- AD 37) who was ruling from Rome through governors appointed at various regions. He had no personal relevance to the life of the people. He was ruling them with an iron hand and was imposing taxes on them. Maybe the only reason to “repay” Caesar was that he paid them with a despotic rule and provided Roman soldiers to punish the people.
What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?
Let us begin with Caesar this time around. His “property” at the time was the Roman Empire which he ruled with the help of governors from various provinces. The governor during the period of our Lord was Pontius Pilate. All the tax money also belonged to him though he only gets a part of it as the tax collectors and the governors also help themselves and send the balance to him. However, history tells us that Caesar Tiberius died sometime in AD 37 which shows that he lost everything that seemed to his possession even the tax monies.
Needless to ask what belongs to God in their particularities. St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1: 16) gives us the following summary:
For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
This, only tells us that everything belongs to God including Caesar Tiberius and all other kings and their kingdoms. God has no beginning nor end; in fact, He is the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13); His reign lasts forever and ever (Psalm 45:6).
Giving to Caesar and Giving to God
We could recall that the question about paying or not paying census taxes to Caesar was an organized attack on our Lord. However, he turns it to a moment of the great lesson by asking them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.
Beyond our analysis about what belongs to Caesar, our Lord was telling them to perform their civic duties but not to neglect their religious obligations. We can see that his answer was a perfect one for the two extreme groups. One imagines that our Lord was telling them, “Be civil but be holy!”
In our day and age, we have so many Caesars that are reshaping our lives to the extent that many of us give to Caesar what belongs to God even after giving to Caesar. Caesar represents all those things that take away the three “Ts” in our relationship with God. Most of us are contending with a lot of Caesars. Your job could become a Caesar, that habit you have formed could be a Caesar, your body could become a Caesar, a human being (man or woman) could be a Caesar unto you. Even your choices, desires, attitudes could be potential Caesars.
Summarily, Caesar represents those things that stand in opposition to us when it comes to our relationship with God. They stand for those things that consume our time and resources to the detriment of what we owe God. There are obviously many Caesars around us and we ought to make an effort to revive and reconsider our dues to God.
As we enter the new week, there is the need for us to search through our lives to identify the Caesars that are robbing our time, talents, and treasures that are due to God. Beyond our physical gifts, the response to the psalm tells us to give the Lord glory and honor and St. Paul in the Second Reading tells us to give thanks to God (1 Thess. 1:1-5b). Above all, the best gift we can give to God is our lives and our souls. We, therefore, conclude this reflection by joining William McDowell to say:
I give myself away (2x)
So You can use me
I give myself away (2x)
So You can use me
Here I am (2x)
Here I stand
Lord, my life is in your hands
Lord, I’m longing to see
Your desires revealed in me (I give myself away)
Take my heart
Take my life
As a living sacrifice
All my dreams all my plans
Lord, I place them in your hands (I give myself away)