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Centering in God

by Jun 4, 2024Friar Reflection

Often the incident in today’s Gospel is used to justify taxes or it is used to promote a separation of religious values and duties from civil values and duties. But neither of those interpretations is at the core of Jesus’ statements. The Pharisees and the Herodians were political sects within Israel during Jesus’ time. Both parties want to rid Israel of the foreign Roman domination and occupation of Israel. The Pharisees wanted to re-establish a new king based on the image of King David and the Herodians wanted to re-establish a king in Israel based on the image of Herod the Great. Basically, their goals are good. We can say that to a certain degree they were concerned for the progress and stability of Israel. Apparently, they saw Jesus as trying to establish a new, rival political party. So, the two groups get together to plot a way to discredit Jesus and thereby do away with a perceived political opponent. They try to ensnare Jesus into publicly denouncing either the emperor Cesar’s tax system or the emperor himself along with the Roman occupation of Israel. This of course would lead to an accusation of treason against the Romans. They think they have set up a perfect debate trap for Jesus. Jesus will have to either side with the Romans and lose all credibility with the people or denounce the Romans which would lead to legal problems. Either way things would go bad for Jesus.  We can clearly see that the center of their lives is politics, power, money, and prestige. So much so that they do not recognize Jesus as a prophet and much less as the Savior. They missed a true encounter with their Savior.

But as we see in Jesus’ response, he does not fall into their either/or trap. As the text says: his response is amazing. He does not denounce the Romans, nor the emperor, nor the Roman occupation of Israel, nor the tax system. Rather he calls the Pharisees and the Herodians back to a right relationship with God. He calls them to put God at the center of their lives. Pay the tribute to Cesar but also pay tribute to God. The image of Cesar is imprinted on the coin. The image of God is impressed on the heart and soul of all human beings.

It is easy for us to center our lives on the things that seemed important the Pharisees and Herodians: power, prestige, money, politics. Many times we fool ourselves into thinking that our motives are good as we pursue those goals. Yet we are separating ourselves from God and putting other things in a place above God.

Today Jesus is calling us all back to a right relationship with God by putting God at the center of our lives. The conversion process calls us all to eliminate from our lives all that distances us from God.

Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar

and to God what belongs to God.