March 8, 2011 - Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

The Gospel begins with the Pharisees and the Herodians together. These two groups despised each other, but they are willing to come together for the common cause of making Jesus look foolish. They begin by complimenting him on his integrity and honesty. Then they ask a question which they were sure there was no good answer to. This question of paying tax money to a government that uses it for evil is a very difficult question, requiring a nuanced answer. Surely, they think, Jesus will have to take a side in the debate either for taxes or against them, or look like he cannot answer a simple question.

Jesus asks, “Why are you testing me?” Indeed, why? They are not really looking for an answer to a difficult question. They are not even testing him to see if he is really wise. Their only motivation is to make him look foolish. Nevertheless, he uses this question as an opportunity to give one of the most memorable teachings in the Gospel: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

What belongs to God? Jesus’ criterion was that the coin is stamped with the image of Caesar. What is stamped with the image of God? We are. In his image and likeness, he created us. Jesus is not teaching that we need to balance in our lives the demands of God and the demands of government. We should give what is worthless (money) to the government, but give to God our whole selves.

We in 21st century America are in a different political situation than the Jews of the 1st century. We have the ability, some more than others, to change what our government does with the tax money. It is not wrong to work, as some people are right now, so that the government does not fund evil corporations like Planned Parenthood. We do not need to leave government entirely in the hands of nonbelievers. However, we should be careful to follow Jesus’ instructions to never give away ourselves, who are stamped with the image of God. In our support for pro-life causes, we should not give ourselves to some agendas, nor, in our support for our immigrant brothers and sisters, should we give ourselves to the opposite side. We, made in the image of God, and the Church, with Jesus as our Head, are too valuable to be given to anyone but God.