Homily for June 6th, 2017: Mark 12:13-17.
Many of those who put questions to Jesus did so not to get information, but to “catch him in speech.” They hoped to get a reply that they could use against him. This is the case in today’s gospel. The taxes imposed by the hated Roman government of occupation were deeply resented by Jesus’ people. If Jesus told people not to pay, he could be denounced to the authorities. If he said we should pay, he would be discredited with the people.
Jesus does not give either of the answers his questioners were looking for. He seldom did. Instead he demands that they show him the coin used to pay the tax. It is a Roman coin. By producing it from their own pockets Jesus’ questioners show that, whatever their theoretical position, in fact they recognize the existing situation. The country is ruled by foreigners. It is their money which is legal tender, and no other.
Jesus’ words, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s” reject the radical position of those who claimed that the Roman government was unlawful and should not be obeyed at all. All the emphasis, however, is on the second part of Jesus’ answer: “Pay to God what is God’s.” Do that, Jesus is saying, and everything else will fall into place. Actually, Jesus speaks not or paying but of repaying: “repay to God what is God’s.” What is God’s anyway? The answer is inescapable: everything! From God we receive all that we are and have, sin excepted. God even gives us our possessions and our money. How long would you retain your possessions and earning power if you lost your health or even one significant human faculty? At bottom even the things have worked for are gifts from the creator and giver of all: God.
If repaying to God what is God’s means anything, it must mean putting God first in our lives. People who do that make a beautiful discovery. They find that God will never permit himself to be outdone in generosity. They find that what is left over for themselves, after giving God the first portion of their time, talent, and treasure, is always enough, and more than enough. And they discover that Jesus’ words are really true: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).