Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor's.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.”
Today’s Gospel reading is familiar to all of us. We are particularly familiar with Jesus’s say, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.” How often do we use it to justify our way of living, out dealings with others, our response to social injustice, and many other things. In fact, the use of this saying of Jesus to justify does not happen only in our time, it has been used for a long time in the history of our Church. It is another example of selective use of biblical passages to suit one’s purpose.
It would be wrong for us to assume that our life is divided into domain under Caesar, that is secular, and domain under God, which is spiritual. If we interpret these words of Jesus meaning we give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to God, our question would be to whom does Caesar belongs? We should all ponder this question if we really want to understand what Jesus actually means.
The entire teaching of Jesus in the four Gospels, in fact, the entire Bible, insists that the whole of creation belongs to God. There is no question of separate domains and therefore everything belongs to God and God alone, full stop! Based on this, what Jesus tries to say is not about separation of domains but about priority. He reminds us to keep our priorities right within the creation.
The Pharisees in today’s reading try to trap Jesus with their concerns. Today, we can easily be trapped by our concerns and assign them with the top priority. Also, we can foolishly separate our concerns in a dualism manner to put them under the Caesar’s domain and under God’s domain and to treat them accordingly. Our faith is never an easy one. That is why Jesus asks his disciples to give up everything if they want to follow him. So the top priority for us is God.
When our priorities are wrong, we would land ourselves in a series of misfortunes. Look at our family, when the parents’ top priority is to make more money to provide material comforts to their children, what is missing is quality time with their kids. Look at our education, when teachers place top priority on examination results, success become the only goal of their student’s lives. Look at our church, when top priority is placed what people want rather than Jesus’ word, secularization is inevitable. Look at our society, when public officers take their own popularity as the top priority, we end up in living in empty words instead of concrete services.
So the invitation of Jesus in today’s Gospel is asking us to prioritize right in our life. How would we respond to the invitation? The best way to respond to the invitation is to identify us with the Pharisees in the Gospel and look for moments in our lives where we lost important values in our concerns, such as job security, social standing, face among friends, etc. Ask for the grace of enlightenment to such concerns in our prayer so that we can come to repentance/ Amen.