Render everything to God
By Fr Mikhail Woodruffe O Carm
The past few Sundays focused on Jesus telling the religious leaders the truth: they are resisting the truth of the Kingdom of God. Angered by Jesus’ challenges, the Pharisees come up with a plot to trap and discredit Him. Their goal is not dialogue or to learn from Jesus, they simply wish to trap Him.
The collaboration of the Pharisees with the Herodians seems unlikely as the Pharisees disliked being under Roman power and the Herodians were supporters of Herod Antipas, the Roman agent in Galilee. Simply put, this is likely a collaboration of convenience between these two groups with a common enemy: Jesus.
Strong conflicting sentiments existed on this specific tax, the “census” that led to tragic consequences. This was a divisive issue and still led to deep feelings among most.
The Pharisees were popular among the people because they resented the tax but would not publicly suggest that it not be paid. The Herodians understandably, would defend payment of the tax.
The team of opponents before Jesus begin their trap by trying to ‘mamaguy’ Him by flattering Him that He is honest, teaches God’s way and is indifferent to people’s worldly rank.
While all this is true about Jesus, they do not believe these themselves. They are insincere and their words are reminiscent of Jesus’ being put to the test by Satan in His temptation in the desert.
They ask Jesus a complicated question expecting a yes or no answer: “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Maybe some of us have felt put in a corner like this in work, with a group or by a relative, who poses a question that has negative consequences either way we answer and we are not given room for explanation.
If Jesus replies ‘yes’ and shows support for the highly unpopular poll tax, He will lose favour with the people who have supported Him thus far and He will offend the Pharisees.
If Jesus answers ‘no’ and rejects the tax, He will offend the Herodians who will label Him a rebel and report Him to the governor for rebellion against Rome.
Jesus proves Himself truly to be the man of honesty and courage that they flattered Him to be.
Jesus calls it as it is. They are hypocrites and Jesus unmasks their hypocrisy. Jesus wisely does not fall into their intended trap, but instead asks them to show Him the money they pay the tax with.
Jesus has the upper hand, would not be caught, and proves Himself as master of the situation. They had the coin in their possession and so must be paying the tax themselves.
The Roman coin used to pay the tax contained what many Jews found idolatrous and blasphemous, an image of Caesar and the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”
By not answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’, Jesus chooses not to alienate either of the major groups who had strong sentiments for or against paying of the taxes. Jesus redirects the conversation to His mission: the reign of the Father.
Jesus indirectly allows that the tax be paid but does not remain restricted by their legal language. Jesus chooses the truth that liberates, not legal traps that imprison. Jesus’ well-known final response “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar- and to God what belongs to God,” reminds us of our call to always discern our obligation to civil authority within the higher framework of our obedience to God. Jesus provides a framework by which civic leaders are called to uphold their responsibility AND we are called to be good citizens. (#2199, Catechism)
Some misunderstand our role as Catholics living in the world. Some suggest a dualistic or two-section split between our lives of faith and our lives as citizens. Rendering to God what is God’s is the starting point from which we discern issues such as voting and other areas of public life.
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God: everything.
The gospel meditations for October are by Fr Mikhail Woodruffe O Carm, a Trinidadian Carmelite friar who recently finished Carmelite formation in the United States.