This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew might alternatively be known as the IRS mission statement: “….repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar…”. While this might be one of the few cases where government wants to hear from religion, it certainly isn’t one that most taxpayers appreciate.
On and off throughout the 98-year history of the IRS, Christians have echoed the question of the Pharisees: “is it lawful to pay taxes”? The answer seems fairly straightforward. Pay your taxes. And like the Pharisees, most of us aren’t thrilled that we don’t have divine exemption to keep the money we’ve worked for.
However, there is another side to this coin [<--- did you like that?]. And it really is about treasure, treasure more important than money. Because Jesus don’t simply say “pay your taxes”, He says “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” He is telling us that our monetary treasure – which has the images of our earthly powers – belongs to those same earthly powers. But the remainder of our treasure belongs to God.
And what does that treasure consist of, if not ultimately the Truth? Jesus told Saint Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” We receive our way of life, our understanding of truth and the very gift of life from God alone. And we return our lives, we offer our intellects and we submit our will to God in return.
Except that we don’t. Not always, maybe not even often. And this is what Jesus was telling the Pharisees, and through the proclamation of this Gospel, telling us.
As the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we’ve got it backwards. We want to keep our money – which came from and returns to the government – and we want to relinquish the Truth. How many of us joyfully allow the government to take its taxes, whether it be at the grocery store or on April 15th?
On the flip side, how many of us willingly allow the government to take the truth, whether it be in the defining of intimacy, the defining of family and the very the defining of life itself?
In Winnipeg, Canada, a Catholic school principal was put on leave after the government applied pressure on him & his school because he dared to encourage his students to pray at abortion clinics as part of their community service hours.
In Rockford, Illinois, Catholic Charities has shutdown its foster care program because the state had threatened to force them to place children in same-sex couple households.
Throughout the entire United States, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals and universities – along with countless Catholic business owners – are wondering what will happen if the department of Health and Human Services does not allow them to opt out of the future mandate that they cover contraception, abortificients and sterilizations in their employee insurance.
Contraception, marriage and abortion. These issues were never the domain or right of Caesar or any government, and yet we’ve given them over. And we worry about whether or not the government will take our money.
Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. In the end, Caesar isn’t the subject at all: its God – and what we rightfully owe him.
As the next election year approaches, we find ourselves in the same position as the Pharisees – talking about the economy and worrying about taxes. And these things are not unimportant. But after we’ve given our time to tax considerations, will we remember to give consideration to God? Or will we continue to turn over what belongs to God to men?
The last sentence of this story is not included in today’s Gospel, but it is telling of the Pharisee’s ability to give what is God’s to God. Jesus said to them “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. And Matthew continues: “When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.”
Will we also go away, or will we stay and standing for the Truth, return what is rightfully His to our Lord?
your brother in Christ,