Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Not to praise the Pharisees, but I am almost impressed by their perseverance in the face of constantly being humiliated by Our Lord. Onetime after another, they keep asking questions or responding to parables and wind up falling into the traps they had set for Our Lord. This gospel passage even gives us a little hint about just how angry they were at Christ. The Pharisees were religious leaders and were against the Roman occupation and control over the land of Israel. They hated the Roman leaders and would often fight back against them. And yet they join together with the Herodians, the Jewish group who worked for the Romans and whom they viewed as the most despised of Jews. They were consumed by hatred of Our Lord. And in response to this the Lord keeps pointing them in the way of Truth, as each parable or question gives us another little piece of the puzzle.
As the Lord hears their question, which comes off as a very flowery but insincere word of praise, he sees the intention of their hearts and asks for the Roman coin. Oddly enough, the very men who rebel against the taxes and the Caesar pull out the coin; they have already begun to condemn themselves just by this action. And then the Lord asks a question to allow them to continue to dig the hole a little deeper. By replying that the image and inscription on the coin were that of Caesar, the Lord has them right in place because to have your inscription on something meant that it technically belonged to that person. In this case, the coin was rightfully Caesar’s and ought then to be given. Simply leaving his response as “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” would have been sufficient, but because the Pharisees were gathered who would have rioted over this answer, the Lord continues, saying “and to God what belongs to God.”
To add this latter statement was to take the Pharisees question even farther and, really, to make it a non-issue. Jesus’ response ultimately leaves one having to ask the next question: What belongs to God? What bears His image? It’s simple – everything. The Jewish people lived out this ‘repaying God’ by offering the first fruits of their produce and livestock. They offered tithes from their money. And they offered grain or animal sacrifices for graces received or in atonement for their sins. They had a very clear way of repaying to God what was God’s. But then the question comes to us – how do we repay to God what is His?
Certainly we still tithe out of the riches the Lord gives us. More than sacrificing animals for the remission of our sins, we offer the Father the Christ’s own sacrifice of Himself in the Eucharist. But beyond that, the Book of Genesis speaks of how man and woman were created in the image of God, so what we are called to give God is actually our entire self. All things come from God and are given to us freely, but they must eventually be repaid. It’s interesting that the Lord uses “repay” rather than “give” in His response. To give means it’s optional, something done from the kindness of one’s heart. To repay means it is a duty, something that must be done because the other person deserves it. Thus, we must repay to God what is God’s and lead lives of praise, giving over our will, desires, and control in our lives because it is truly He Who is deserving of it.
St. Ignatius of Loyola summarized this well in his 'suscipe' prayer, which we now pray:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own, You have given to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.