In Matthew’s Gospel more than in any other, the Jewish authorities look for ways to trap Jesus into taking sides on a disputed issue. In the case of our Gospel today, the issue was the census tax. The Herodians thought it should be paid, the Pharisees did not. They took their time preparing the proper wording to try and throw Jesus off by making him choose one over the other. Jesus’ answer to them didn’t matter, because either way He would have been caught in a trap with His own words. They asked Him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus replied, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed Him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that, He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
No matter what side Jesus took, it would get Him into trouble with someone. Jesus was not about to fall into the trap. Nor was He about to miss a chance to point out there were far more important things to worry about. He doesn’t answer the question on the legality according to the Jewish law. Rather, He turns their focus to the question of what they should be giving to God. Whether they pay the tax was a matter for Caesar to take up. Their faithfulness to the Ten Commandments and to loving and serving God with all their hearts was the real question. Were they giving God their wholehearted obedience there? Are we?
We need to take Jesus’ example of our obligation and responsibility to the state but live the larger obligation to God and be Christ in the world through our actions toward one another. The same way the image of Caesar on the coin makes it Caesar’s, God created us. We belong to God and no one else. In all we say and do, we give glory and honor to God.
If we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to put our beliefs and actions into everything we do. All we say and do reflects God’s life in us. God works through our human hands. How do we help those who can’t help themselves? Do we feed and cloth the homeless through our generosity of all we have? How do we stand up for the voiceless in our society? Do we write to our government leaders on issues that affect them? How do we protect the sanctity and dignity of every human life from conception to natural death? Do we pray for those on death row?
There is so much to be done. If we just take the time to pray and ask God where he needs us most, and give ourselves absolutely to God, then remarkably we are free to give to others in ways that are gracious and life-giving. He will direct us to His people’s needs. We just need to listen to His words and not get tricked by agents of the devil who tried to trick Jesus.
How will you love and serve God today with your whole heart?
Peace of Christ,
Deacon Ray Ferreris