Whose image is on the coin?

“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.” This way of thinking encourages us to divide our lives between the coin of the sacred (belonging to God) and the coin of the secular (belonging to Caesar). Going to worship on Sunday, donating to the support of the church, singing in the choir or volunteering on a parish committee are seen as “sacred” activities. On the other hand, going to work on Monday, carpooling kids back and forth to school or participating in local politics 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 in the “secular” will reflect this belief.

The problem comes in when we identify our work, home and community life as having nothing to do with God. This way of thinking 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 in the diocese.