“Time is money” they say, and the fact is we spend a lot of our time earning money (or saving it by doing work we would otherwise have to pay for.) Even those of us who are retired or in school are still in money’s orbit, either preparing for a career or managing our assets and relationships after our career. We try not to let ourselves obsess over it, but we can’t deny that money still matters a lot.
But if money is what we receive in exchange for our God-given days and hours on this earth, it seems we should give those gifts back to God first and foremost. That being the case, why does Jesus tell us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” in this week’s gospel passage? Is he really saying all our money belongs to the government first and foremost because it has pictures of presidents on it?
Many of Jesus’ friends and neighbors were deeply opposed to paying Roman taxes, since they saw the horrible things the Roman armies did with that money. Today, some of us intentionally resist paying war taxes but the majority of us are (more or less) content to pay our part; we see the money doing a lot of good! We need infrastructure and the rule of law. Beyond that, many of the practices and priorities of the Christian church have turned out to be such good ideas that over the centuries the government has decided to get involved-- literacy, care for the sick, care for the poor. These are valuable things, and the government has proven a reliable, if flawed, provider.
I think Jesus was advocating for a middle ground; neither total rebellion against government taxes, but also not a total acceptance of the way things are. He’s telling us to play along with the system, but to always keep in mind God’s broader perspective. We should still feel ambiguous about paying our taxes even as we do pay them, aware that our ultimate allegiance calls us to look for ways to reform or even abolish the system we support.
May we all experience some freedom in that ambiguity, freedom based on an understanding that God’s Image is infinitely more valuable than Benjamin Franklin’s.
Grace and peace be with you all,