“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” We have to understand something in this scenario – and who is involved. The Pharisees are the religious leaders of the time. They despised Roman occupation and thought it a threat to their way of life. The Herodians were more devious, thinking it better to align themselves with the Romans for security of their own position. They hated one another. Yet, they unite here to target Jesus in a political debate. If He says – yes it is lawful to pay the census tax then He comes across as a Roman sympathizer. If He says no, He could be cited for rebellion. His response is remarkable: “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” It is the Emperor’s image on that coin, it is his inscription, which also had overtly religious claims – a grave offense against the Jewish faith. Nevertheless, Jesus seems to suggest that being a faithful citizen, meeting legitimate demands of life in the public square, participating in government is not opposed to religious beliefs and one’s duties and obligations as such. But this is not all that His response reveals. Jesus implicitly subordinates Caesar’s claims to that of the true God, the only God … Which brings us to the question – what then, belongs to God? If the coin bears the image of Caesar with his inscription, it belongs to him … what bears God’s image? Human beings do …
Thus, we come to meaning behind Jesus’ words … Our allegiance is not owed to any one political figure … our highest priority is human life because every man, woman and child bears the image of God – regardless of race, nationality or citizenship, whether born or unborn – we bear a responsibility to one another as human beings created in God’s image and likeness. How, therefore, we engage in political debate, how we conduct ourselves in the public square must reflect this as our highest priority.
If I hold up a one dollar bill – whose image is on that bill? George Washington … And on a $5 – Lincoln … and a $20 – Jackson … $50 – Grant … All of whom represent the governance of a nation. Using these various forms of paper we are able to buy, sell, trade, bargain … using these helps bolster our economy, puts food on our tables, clothes on backs, roofs over our heads … the heat on in church! Nevertheless, the images on these bills, our participation in the economy and in civil discourse does not in any way hinder our ability to practice our faith, to be wholly devoted to God. We ought to be able to engage in political discourse over climate change, tax reform, healthcare and so on without ever having to worry about hatred, division, and attacks on our religious beliefs and of our ability to worship freely. At the same time, however, our religious convictions ought to help shape and form our conscience so that when we have these discussions, when we make decisions, we do so with an eye to that which is eternal, in such a way that puts God first among the priorities of our lives. Our political allegiances, therefore, are secondary to our faith since politics and political figures cannot save our souls.
The images on these bills paints a picture of the history of a nation and there is certainly something to be said for our loyalty to the founding principles that continue to be driving force behind the governance of our country … yet, we must remember that while our earthly dealings are important, we will be judged on how we cared for one another, on how we protected and defended the sanctity of human life … on how we love God and neighbor – as the psalmist so rightly notes: “say among the nations, the Lord is king!”