“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This often quoted phrase of Jesus is a perfect example of what is going on in the later parts of Jesus’ ministry. The scribes and Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus. But like a brilliant lawyer, Jesus responds in a way not to trap himself. The question “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” has no good answer! If Jesus says, “No, don’t pay!” then he is guilty of sedition. If he says, “Yes, pay taxes!” then he is guilty of breaking God’s law, for it involves graven images and a sense of Rome being put above religion.
Instead, Jesus attacks their question with an assertion that the money is evil (Give to Caesar that which has his picture on it!) and also that God owns everything anyway (Give to God what is God’s).
Is not everything God’s? Of course! But the deeper question – is that how we live our lives? Do we go about our daily business understanding that everything is the Lord’s? Have we come to a settled place about how we spend our money?
Here we are in the midst of America’s celebration of Christmas, which I have named Consumerism Christmas. Somehow our Christmas spirit is often judged on how many presents we buy, how many parties we have, how many times Santa shows up at the parties we attend, how many cards we mail out, and how many decorations we put up. The problem with those standards is that they all center around consumerism.
We are called to a renewal of Christ’s incarnation. That means a renewal of understanding that God is close to us, and that all we do and say is wrapped up in the marvelous gift of God With Us. To have God in our midst means to put all our energy in that which was important to him. As someone who came and reached out to the poor and afflicted, it would seem that if Christmas is going to be about gifts, it will center around alms to the poor, not gifts to other family members.
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This is our call – to turn from the bizarre incongruencies of our lives, and turn to the truth of God’s radical gospel of love and light. There is hope and joy wrapped up in that little gift – enough for the whole world. Lord, let it be!