What Belongs to God
“I am the Lord; there is no other.”
Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
What belongs to God? Once I have given to God what is His, what is left? To whom do I then give that? These are the questions that I am left with from today’s Scripture.
Very often, this teaching of Jesus, to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” is a good guideline to keeping secular and spiritual things separate. Throughout our history, saints and sinners alike have wrestled with this dichotomy – the delineation of the “flesh” and the “Spirit,” as St. Paul would call it. In the early fifth century, St. Augustine wrote The City of God, which is a classic treatise on the two worlds in which Christians find themselves, and ultimately how we all belong to the City of God.
In the middle of the twentieth century, American Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray published a book, We Hold These Truths, in which he laid out the American proposition of civic and religious life as integral parts of each Catholic’s life. Today, we have many people who vehemently defend the separation of Church and State – but often are articulating a desire for politics to be free of religiously-inspired values.
Now, this is not a homily about the separation of Church and State, nor the First Amendment. Rather, this is about what Jesus is teaching when He responds to the Pharisees and Herodians with this famous saying. I want us to seriously consider the first questions that I asked: What belongs to God? Once I have given to God what is His, what is left? To whom do I then give that? This, I think is the power of Christ’s response, and I believe that it is meant to guide us – not just in life here and now, but ultimately to heaven.
When Jesus draws attention to the image and inscription on the coin, He is implicitly also drawing attention to the image and inscription on you and me. If the coin was struck with the head of Tiberias Caesar and the inscription that he wanted : Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs (Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus), then, Jesus says, simply give it back to him. However, if you and I bear the image and likeness of God and have His Name on our hearts, then we owe Him everything. Everything.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks to the emperor Cyrus, reminding him of all that He has done for him – even if he was unaware. The Lord punctuates His message with the very clear, “I am the Lord” and “There is no other.” The implication for me, then, especially hearing both of these messages today, is that God must come first. I cannot shortchange God, who deserves my best and my all. I cannot attend to all my mundane needs and then turn to God to give Him what is left over.
This is the idea of the tithe – the gift of first fruits to God – even before the government and our family. It’s an act of gratitude and of trust. But all our lives should be oriented first to God. So, I would like to offer a few practical suggestions on how we can declare with our lives that God is the Lord and that we believe that there is no other.
The tithe – giving an intentional percentage of your income to support the Church – is a way to place your finances completely in God’s hands – and every debt is set in its proper order. Make your offering to the Church a deliberate gift, and be consistent and faithful with it.
Second, come to church early when you come on the weekend. Take that time before Mass to pray and put yourself in God’s holy presence. Save any simple chit chat for after Mass.
If you are a reader and have a novel or book that you are reading, take time when you sit down to read to first pray a Psalm or two and then read that next chapter.
Begin your day with prayer – not email, texts, or Facebook.
Pray before your meals – even when you are out at a restaurant. Be a sign of witness to others.
If you do all these things – these simple acts of piety – like bowing your head at the name of Jesus, and Mary, and the saints – then others will see what you know is truly important.
And they will know that you belong to God.