The Gospel according to Mark (12:13-17)
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.
Opening Prayer: Father, I depend on You for my life. Help me to offer it in service to You, in whatever way You wish to use me. Let me consider my highest calling that of repaying to You what has been given me by You. Amen.
Today, we remember the early Christian apologist and philosopher St. Justin Martyr. Because of his background as a philosopher, he had a unique view of the faith, and of how God longed to relate to humankind. One great lesson we can take from the life of St. Justin is the depth of his faith, as, given the opportunity to turn away from it, he chose to trust in the God he followed, and he gave his life as a result.
Jesus was in a similar spot in the Gospel today. Two groups, the Herodians and the Pharisees, came to Him, hoping to catch Jesus in what He said, so that they would show that He was not who He said He was. Instead, Jesus turns their argument against them, and they are left “utterly amazed”. The last line that Jesus spoke is the one I would like to consider for a moment: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We are all under human authority of some kind. We live under a government’s authority over us. Those of us who are students have a teacher in authority over us. Those of us who work have a boss whose authority we must abide by. That is the aspect of our lives that Jesus refers to in that first phrase “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. We are called as followers of Jesus to submit to the human authorities that apply to us.
It does not mean, though, that we should mindlessly accept human authority. In many parts of the world, human authority is corrupt, seeking only its own benefit, not that of the ones who are governed. In those cases, and in any situations where what authorities demand of us conflicts with God’s law of love, we are called to “repay to God what belongs to God”. Put a different way, the “Caesar” side of this equation is all about telling us what we must to do to submit to human authority. We don’t have a choice in the matter in most cases. The “God” side of the equation is all about choosing to love, even though we are not demanded to do so. That’s the love that Jesus shared with His followers, and it is the love that we are called to emulate.
We Christians walk a fine line in our society today (as has always been true, going all the way back to the time of Jesus). We are called to love and to be good citizens, but also to pray that God’s love will be shown in our lives, and that it may dwell in those who govern us. God, who can do anything, can change the hearts of those who govern us, if they do not follow His ways. Our job is to love as best as we are able, and to ask God to show us how to make the world a place more receptive to His love, and more filled with His love. That is the challenge we face today. May we be willing to accept that challenge, knowing that God will give us His grace to do what we can to serve Him better, and to truly repay to God “what belongs to God”.
Closing Prayer: Loving Jesus, help me to be a beacon of hope in the world, in my community and in my home today. Give me Your grace to act as Your hands, Your feet, and Your voice. Let me truly repay to Your Father what belongs to Him, to have my life be a witness of God’s goodness! Amen.
Action for the Day: Pray for those in authority over us, that they be open to God’s wisdom, and to remember that they have the power to minister to the weak and the forgotten, and to provide for them.