Returning the Favor

The Nazareth Page- A gospel meditation for your home

October 18, 2020 – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 22:15-21

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Today’s gospel contains one of the most quoted lines in all the gospels: It reads, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Some might recall an older translation which was, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

When this was discussed in Catholic circles, I recall hearing that we should pay our taxes to the government, but also give generously to the church. Made sense. But I don’t think that was on the mind of Jesus when he first spoke those very important words.

As is true in many times in the life of Jesus, he gave a brilliant response to the tricky tax question, one that confused his enemies and gave his followers something to think about. What’s really due Caesar? And what’s due to God?

Here’s what I think as relates to our lives today. Yes, it our responsibility to support our local and national governments. Citizenship has its demands. We are entering the season of elections. Church leaders rightfully say that it is our Christian responsibility to vote. And to pay taxes. And to participate in government as much as that’s appropriate.

But it’s the second part of what Jesus said that is often missed. The part about what’s owed to God. So, the question is this: What exactly is owed to God? The answer lies in the relationship between God and all creation and in the Christian understanding of human existence. Or if you want a more philosophical question: Why is there anything and not nothing at all?

The answer to all three questions is the same. God created everything that is. If there is no Creator, there is no creation. Or, as some put this: God created everything that was and is good.

Therefore, the right response to all that exists is gratitude to God. Because God is the reason behind all that is good. Of course, a full understanding of this would fill the libraries of the world. And “the cloud,” to use a contemporary image. I like to put it this way: God loved everything into life. Including each of us. What does God expect in return? Giving thanks, first of all. And then, treat all as God would want us to. If you think that is easy, try it for a day.

©David M. Thomas, PhD

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