“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22: 21
Is there anything that is not God’s?
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, ” says Psalm 24: 1.
“I am the Lord and there is no other,” according to Isaiah 45: 5, 6 in today’s first reading.
Yes, I know the question was a trap for Jesus. But so many have been entrapped by his response and hold on to an idolization of the State, of Caesar.
We not only give Caesar his money but we give him our souls.
We think that one party, one candidate, one position will bring what we want and need. But, how often are political promises nothing more than pampering to our self-interests?
As the late Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh noted: “The empire and those who vie for its throne offer us, in differing forms, an ideology of self-interest.”
Gustavo Gutiérrez, Dominican priest and founder of liberation theology, is blunt in his commentary in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (pp. 244-245). The question is about money.
In the Pharisee’s question, there is a possible insinuation of not paying their tax and those of their keeping the money for themselves. Their would-be nationalism does not go further. Jesus is going to the root: it is necessary to eradicate all dependency on money. It is not only a question of breaking with the political domination of the emperor; it is necessary to break with the oppression that comes from the attachment to money and its possibilities of exploiting others. Jesus tells them to give the coin back to Caesar and to be liberated from money (mammon, see Mt 6:24). Only then will they be able to worship the true God and to give him what belongs to him.
José Antonio Pagola is even more blunt:
What is it that belongs to Caesar that is not God’s? Only his unjust money.
Give to God what is God’s – and there is nothing left for Caesar.
In this respect, Dorothy Day quoted Saint Hilary:
The less we ask of Caesar, the less we will have to render to Caesar.