“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” It sounds so simple. The question is, how do we determine which is which?
We live in a world of dualities, of “either/or.” We divide our lives between the coin of the sacred (belonging to God) and the coin of the secular (belonging to Caesar). Going to church on Sunday, donating to the support of the church, serving as a liturgical minister or volunteering on a parish committee; these are seen as sacred activities. On the other hand, going to work on Monday morning, carpooling kids back and forth to school, serving on the town council are seen as secular.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that we are to return what is sacred in our lives, that which “… belongs to God …,” to God. If we believe that what we do in our homes, our places of business and the broader community is sacred then there will be no “either/or.” If we believe that everything we do is sacred then how we live our lives, no matter where we are, will reflect this belief.
The problem comes in when we identify our work, home and community life as having nothing to do with God. Such a world view can lead to a lack of concern for social justice, to hypocrisy or even outright dishonesty. If we believe that our actions in these secular areas are separate from our sacred lives, then money, power and prestige become the coin of the realm and how we make the money, amass the power, or attain the prestige is of no concern to us. If we are not responsible to bring our home, work and community life to God, then it doesn’t matter how we behave at home, what kind of work we do, or how we treat our fellow human beings.
“Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” When we reach into our pockets, whose image is on the coin? When we count out the coins to pay the tax, to whom do we make payment?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.