The Tribute Money, Peter Paul Ruben (c. 1612)
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” – Matthew 22:21b
Pay to the world what is the world’s, and to God what is God’s. It was a big deal for Matthew to write this, as he himself was a tax collector. Surely this moment with Christ touched him deeply, and perhaps even changed him, as it can also touch and change us today.
What is God’s?
Perhaps it’s easier to answer that question with the context of next Sunday’s Gospel, the continuation of this week’s, in which – 16 verses of Matthew after this – Jesus gives “the greatest Law,” and teaches, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is God’s? Your heart, your soul, your mind. Your neighbor. And love. God is love, and Love is of God.
Heart, soul, mind, neighbor, love.
If I am to LOVE God with ALL my heart, ALL my soul, ALL my mind, and love my neighbor as myself, when do I do this? When do I fail?
As a husband, if I put some desire of my own over my wife’s needs, am I truly loving my neighbor as myself?
As a physical neighbor of another homeowner, if I quickly and conveniently blow just a few of the grass clippings or the leaves over towards his yard (He’s not looking out his window, is he?) to save myself some time, am I truly loving my neighbor as myself?
If I dangerously disregard traffic laws and speed and weave through traffic to try to get to work faster, neglecting the fact that everyone around me is also trying to get somewhere safely, and I truly loving my neighbor as myself?
If I find it a little too easy to ignore or brush off those in Ferguson reminding me that there are still injustices in my own back yard, regardless of the events that precipitated that plea.
If I forget about those in prison, or in the hospital; if I fear Ebola more than I pray for those who have contracted it and those who are caring for them; if I find it too easy to drive or walk past someone asking for some spare change from my pocket because I’ve been asked and I’ve given or ignored a thousand times before, am I loving my neighbor as myself? If they go to bed tonight with pangs of hunger while I lay, comfortably and well-fed, am I?
God asks for our WHOLE hearts, our WHOLE souls, and our WHOLE minds.
I’m a husband and a father. If I prioritize my kids ABOVE my relationship with God, am I really doing them a service? If getting them to the next soccer game is more important than prioritizing leading them to Mass, to the Eucharist, to the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians and to the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world, am I doing them any favors? Am I showing them that God truly has my whole heart, soul, and mind, and setting the example for them to give Him theirs as well?
Or am I instead teaching my children to give the world what is God’s?
No, as a husband and father, MORE is asked of me. It’s more important than ever before in my life: when i was single, when I wasn’t entrusted yet with children… now it is MORE important to put my relationship with God FIRST, to give him His due FIRST, out of my time, my talents, my abilities, my physical abundance. God gave it to me, and in returning it to Him, I fulfill his command and I deepen my relationship with Him in turn.
Somehow – and I’m always surprised by this – God surprises me by giving back to me in new ways whenever I give to Him. Sometimes it’s a new grace, or a new gift. Sometimes it’s a new suffering to offer up to Him for others around me.
In giving to God what is God’s, I acknowledge the teaching of Isaiah in today’s first reading, “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:4b-5)
In “giving the Lord glory and honor”, as in the Psalm, I do find myself “unceasingly calling to mind [my] work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
One of my favorite verses of the Old Testament reinforces this – the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
When I do these things; when I act this way in these moments of daily life, slowly, over time, I find myself becoming more fully configured to Christ, serving in love. I find peace in giving to God all that is His, all that He has given to me. Sufferings, pains, struggles; gifts, graces, talents. Giving all. May God give us the grace to continue living out this challenge in our lives and in our world.