Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Matthew 22:21b
It’s always interesting to me to see how readily scripture interfaces with real life. I read the Bible daily, typically diving in many times while I’m writing. Always, without fail, the word speaks truth, wisdom, understanding, encouragement, inspiration, and more into my thinking and my living.
My Sunday morning discipleship class has been reading through the Gospel of Matthew for more than a year. When we started, we had no idea the study would go more than a few weeks. That’s why it seemed so providential when the first Sunday in Lent just happened to coincide with Christ’s Triumphal Entry at the beginning of chapter 21, nicely setting up Holy Week stories for the entire run up to Easter.
Give to Caesar:
Then, this week, what should show up but the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus into a politically incorrect discussion about taxes! Yes, that’s right, I had just finished preparing my parents’ tax returns. And now there’s an open TurboTax file on my computer, constantly peeking around the other icons on my desktop, vying for attention, staring me down until I get my own taxes in order.
Matthew tells a great story, and it’s well worth reading all eight verses. But it’s this small statement by Jesus that keeps working its way into my consciousness right now: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
The Give unto Caesar part is a challenge, yes, but the tax software I use simply takes the facts of our income, our deductions, what we’ve already paid, plus our particular life circumstances, and then spits out a firm number at the other end. Simple; not very pleasant, but clearcut nonetheless.
Give to God:
It’s the second part that really demands our attention and our open-spirited consideration; “Give to God what belongs to God.” It’s a question that is crucial if we are to really understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
People often consider a financial commitment to their church the same way they think about “pay to play” fees at the gym, the Y, or maybe neighborhood association dues. Disciples, however, wake up every day with a sense of, “I belong to God; everything I am and hope to be belongs to God; my self, my family, my home, my resources, my church – it all belongs to God.”
Once we begin to think about the fact that Jesus instructs us to “Give to God what belongs to God,” then it’s not longer a question of “how much can I spare each month to put in the plate?” but, “what am I doing with my resources that inhibits me from giving even more?”
Christ’s words remind me that passing along my leftovers isn’t exactly a transformational spiritual discipline. Recognizing that everything already belongs to God, and understanding my role in partnership with God to reach the world with love… now that is life-changing, church-strengthening, and world-saving!
- Recognizing that everything already belongs to God, and understanding my role in partnership with God to reach the world with love… now that is life-changing, church-strengthening, and world-saving!
Here’s the entire exchange, at Matthew 22:15-22:
Then the Pharisees left the place where Jesus was teaching. They made plans to catch him saying something wrong. They sent some men to Jesus. They were some of their own followers and some from the group called Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. We know you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what others think about you. All people are the same to you. So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus knew that these men were trying to trick him. So he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” They showed Jesus a silver coin. Then he asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?”
They answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.”
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
When they heard what Jesus said, they were amazed. They left him and went away.