Today’s Gospel is the classic text that is cited to describe the relationship between church and state. Jesus’ answer seems simple and direct: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Since Caesar’s image and inscription is on the coin it must belong to Caesar hence Jesus’ instruction to “repay” or give it back to Caesar.
The emphasis in Jesus’ teaching on the second part of this phrase: “Repay…to God what belongs to God.” We bear the image of God since we were created in the image and likeness of God. God’s payment, therefore, that is God’s Will, comes before Caesar’s payment and will. There is not a simple and equal division between church and state.
We sometimes hear the claim that religious leaders should stay out of politics. This statement is true, there should be a separation between church and state. Church leaders should never endorse a political candidate or political party. This “political issue” like Jesus saying becomes more complicated because often times so-called political issues such as abortion, racism, inequality, immigration, violence, and social justice are not only political issues but are inherently moral and hence religious issues.
As we face these difficult and divisive issues as Christians, we need to always call one another to put God’s Will and Way before our own political agenda. God demands even more: God demands that we show respect to the “other” and avoid caricaturing their positions into simplistic slogans. God’s will is that we love our “enemies,” that is that we love one another as God has loved us. This is the way that we “render to God the things of God.” To do otherwise would be hypocrisy, preaching love but practicing hate and divisiveness.