Gospel reading for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 22:15-21
In response to a conniving question regarding whether or not it is lawful to pay the census tax, Jesus points out Caesar’s image on the Roman coin and brilliantly replies, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
While technically everything belongs to God, there is still a clear distinction between earthly possessions and that which has an eternal value. And there is a difference between things that a corrupt politician may be concerned about (money, status and power) and the things that God cares about (love, humility and faith). Matters of the physical world as opposed to matters of the soul.
Jesus doesn’t think twice about money and taxes going to Caesar because He doesn’t care about the earthly stuff. That’s the stuff that so often gets in our way and diverts our attention from what matters – from the soul work that saves us.
Jesus also implies that we are in debt to God – he says to repay to God what belongs to God. I’m going to take this to mean gratitude – thanking God for all that He has blessed us with. But how can we “repay” God when everything already belongs to Him? What are we supposed to give Him and how are we supposed to thank Him?
When I think about this as it relates to my own children, it starts to make sense. My kids are too little to go buy me a gift. So, sometimes they’ll find something random around the house that already belongs to me, like a book or a picture frame, and they’ll wrap it up. Other times, they’ll draw a picture or create a handmade gift. Both are sweet (and sometimes funny) gestures, and I appreciate them, but one day it got me thinking about what the BEST gift would be from my children to me. Once I realized the answer, it clarified this same question as it relates to me and God as well.
What is the best gift my children can give to me? What is the best way for them to love me and show me gratitude? To live a good and full life – the life I’m trying to teach them to live. And to treat each other with love.
Given that we are created in God’s image, if I feel this way about my own children, and I’m sinful and selfish and imperfect and foolish, I think we can safely assume that our Father feels something similar about all of us… on a much grander and incomprehensible scale.
So, the only way to meaningfully repay God for all that He has given us, is to love Him with our lives. To live the life He wants us to live, and to treat His other children – our brothers and sisters – with kindness and love. This is the ONLY thing we can give Him that He doesn’t already have. It’s the ONLY thing He’s given us control over. Ourselves. Our faith. The way we love. How we spend our time. What we give. And how we are connecting with others.
And here’s a secret that I’m joyfully figuring out. If we love God by living the life He wants us to live and in close connection with Him, it ends up benefiting US the most. God is the ultimate giver. Anything we give comes right back to us as love, peace, happiness, fulfillment… everything amazing and everything good.