In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that God doesn’t play politics: he is the lord of life and history. To consider him a political player is simply beneath him. The Pharisees and Herodians were trying to trap him into expressing a political opinion on paying a census tax to Caesar, which some saw as sacrilegious and others saw as their civic duty (or, at least, something that kept them out of hot water with the Romans). Jesus gets right to the point: if Caesar wants to mint coins and tax his subjects, let him have his coins. God doesn’t need Caesar’s coins: he doesn’t “need” anything, because he already has it all. Everything comes from him.
To be fair, in Our Lord’s time on earth the lines between civic and religious duty were blurred. By giving to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s, Jesus is reminding us that each of those two things are important on their own level, but they are not on the same level. The real danger comes when civil authority tries to go beyond minting coins and thinks it can mint the truth: within a few decades after Jesus’ death Christians would be martyred for refusing to acknowledge the emperor as a god or to participate in the state religion in opposition to their own beliefs. Declaring the state as all-knowing, just as imposing one expression of religion as the definitive one, ignoring the freedom to believe as you choose, is an attempt to mint the truth, and it is trying to give to Caesar what is really God’s. God is the source of all truth, and he has woven the truth into his creation so that all men of good will, aided by him, can find it and follow it.
Sadly there are still many attempts today to mint the truth: religious fundamentalism imposed by force, attempts to redefine basic natural institutions, such as marriage, etc. Let’s ask for the wisdom and the courage to always see what is due to God, what is due to “Caesar,” and to fulfill our true obligations to both.
Readings: Tobit 2:9–14; Psalm 112:1–2, 7–9; Mark 12:13–17.