God & Caesar

Then Jesus said to them:

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Matthew 22:21

You know the story. When Jesus was asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar the Roman colonial ruler this was answered given by Jesus. Who came and asked this question from Jesus? They were the disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians. Here it is important to remember that usually Pharisees and Herodians did not come together. But because of the fact that both these groups thought that Jesus was against them, they came to gather to trap Jesus. They thought the best way to trap Jesus was to ask a political question about Taxes paid to Caesar the Roman emperor of that time.

Jews who were ruled by the Romans of that time generally were against paying taxes to Caesar. But because of the Roman power irrespective of their protests they had to pay taxes to the Roman government. Therefore although Jews were opposed to paying taxes to Caesar openly they were frightened to protest against this and say that they should not pay taxes to Caesar.

When Pharisees and Herodians sent their disciples to Jesus to ask this question about taxes most probably they would have thought that Jesus would openly protest against the idea of paying taxes to Caesar. If he did that would have been enough to bring charges against Jesus in a Roman court to have a trial against him.

On the other hand, if Jesus said that it was alright to pay taxes to Caesar they would have told the Jewish people that he was a traitor who encouraged people to pay taxes to the Roman Government.

Here the answer given by Jesus was very interesting. He did not give a straightforward answer but gave an answer for people to think and reflect on the whole political issue of paying taxes to those Roman foreigners who occupied their land.

When Jesus Said Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, did he mean that one should divide God’s potion and kings' or rulers' potion and give those to them respectively?

To understand what he meant by this answer it is necessary to comprehend the philosophy of Jesus regarding this issue. As a Jew Jesus believed that the geographical area of Jews belonged to God. Therefore when Romans invaded their land it was not just an invasion of Jewish territory but an attack on a territory belonging to God.

Therefore when Jesus said that Give to Caesar what Caesar indirectly meant was that there was nothing that belonged to Caesar in that area. Or in other words, what he said was if there is anything that belonged to Caesar give that to him.

Therefore the deep meaning of this answer tells us that everything belongs to God. Not only the things that we particularly give to God. Do you remember the words of our offertory prayer? Everything belongs to God. Even what we give to God belongs to him.

As Christians, we can’t have this dichotomy of things belonging to God and the king or ruler. Rulers and kings are temporary stewards of what permanently belongs to God. What belongs to God belongs to the whole creation of God. Therefore when we enjoy our lands, money, wealth, and so on let’s remember they are not the sole property of my group and me. We have a Christian responsibility to sustain God’s creation for the use of everybody who is part of God’s creation.

Therefore broadly speaking it is hard to divide things into secular and sacred. All so-called secular things are sacred and all so-called sacred things are secular because they belong to God. Because they belong to God they belong to all of us.

As we get involved in day-to-day activities let us remember that everything belongs to God including our own lives and that we cannot possess anything selfishly.