In Matthew chapter 22, the Pharisees ask Jesus “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” He said “Show me the coin for the tax.” “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
During this tax season, these verses have been used to argue that it is our duty and responsibility to pay our taxes (not proudly avoid paying them), and as citizens in a democracy to make sure those taxes go to support the common good.
During this time of political strive and division, these verses have been used to argue for the separation of church and state, that religious people should stick with religious things, and that what belongs to Caesar belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God belongs to God.
Though oft repeated, this second interpretation completely misses (and actually reverses) Jesus’ point – that everything belongs to God. Jesus’ statement about render unto Caesar is a profound teaching of stewardship, that there is no division of sacred and secular, and that all we have comes from and belongs to God. Notice, by the way, that the coin Jesus used did not show an image of the Pharisees. It wasn’t theirs. Its was a gift from God they were called to honor God through the service of others.
This week, 150 people of faith – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahai and others – spent two days in Augusta learning how to put their beliefs into action on a wide variety of issues by talking to their representatives or speaking out about specific legislative proposals. See link here
for views from the Maine Council of Churches. As I worked with that group and reviewed those proposals, I was reminded that much of today’s legislation is based on the idea that it’s our money that someone else is trying to take away.
What would it look like if people of faith stood up and said that the bottom line is not the bottom line but rather how we cared for one another? What would it look instead, if we realized that what we have is a gift from God that we are called to use for the common good and make this world a better place? Yes, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Also render to God what is God’s.