Of Tithes and Taxes

Mark 12: 13-17
2Pt 3:12-15a,17-18 / Psa 90

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
(Mark 12:17)

For my country and for the Lord,
Good government and the Good News,
As my taxes and for God’s Word,
May I not fail to pay my dues.

They sent some Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to trap Him in His words. They came and said to Him, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You are not concerned by the opinions of men, nor their status; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” He asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and He asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. (Mark 12:13-17)

Reflection

Why did the Pharisees and the Herodians, two camps with opposing principles, band together to entrap Jesus with their trick question? Because they thought that whatever answer Jesus gave, either camp would have the opportunity to condemn Him. If Jesus answered ‘It is right to pay taxes to Caesar,’ then the Pharisees could accuse Him of being a false prophet, with allegiance to the hated Roman conquerors. And if Jesus answered “We should not pay taxes to Caesar,” then the Herodians, who were lackeys of Rome, could accuse him of subversion to the Roman authorities. But instead of achieving its devious end, their plan only succeeded in showing to the people that Jesus possessed no ordinary human intelligence, and in fact only provided the Lord the opportunity to give an important lesson about man’s dual obligations to God and to society.

When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…”, He was acknowledging submission to authority as the natural order of things, since all authority, in the governance of people, comes from God. But He also added ‘…and to God what belongs to God.’ And this He most likely addressed as a subtle rebuke to the Pharisees, who were not sincerely giving to God His due. It could be addressed to us as well if we have forgotten that we belong to God, made in His image and likeness. We can only give ourselves back to God when we give Him our tithes, to propagate the Good News of salvation, our talents, in the service of His Church, and our precious time, in prayer and meditation of His Word.

Jesus is teaching us in today’s Gospel passage that as Christians we have the responsibility to give support to our Church and to the proclamation of God’s kingdom, just as much as we are obliged to pay our taxes and uphold the Constitution of our country. As citizens of our country, it is our patriotic duty to support our government financially by giving back a portion of what we have earned here. In the same way, for all the blessings that we have received from God including our own life, it is only fitting that we assist His Church on earth, its mission, and His ministers, whose vow of poverty makes them totally dependent on our generosity. After all, our ‘spiritual taxes’ manifest our citizenship in the kingdom of God. And if we owe our peace and freedom to the cost of supporting our government’s military and police, just consider at what cost our salvation from sin was redeemed!

Dear God, we are made in Your image and likeness because we come from You, therefore as Your currency, we must give ourselves back to You. Do with us as You will, Lord God, for we are certain that in serving You, we will grow in full measure. Amen.

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