As I prepare to do battle with Schedule C and Form 4562 for my taxes, the story of the agents of the Jewish rulers who were trying to trap Jesus popped into my head. Their question: was it allowed under Jewish law to pay taxes to Caesar?
That was a rock-and-a-hard-place question if there ever was one. To answer yes would anger the Jewish people who hated the Roman overlords. It was salt in the wound that those taxes paid for the Roman troops that occupied their land. To say no was to commit treason in Roman eyes and invite execution.
Jesus’s response was brilliant. He asked for a denarius, the Roman coin that was used to pay taxes to Rome. The head of the emperor was stamped on one side of every denarius. When Jesus asked his questioners whose portrait and inscription was on the coin, they had to say, ”Caesar’s.”
I can imagine a smile on Jesus’s face as he replied, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 (KJV))
But the question of how we divide what we have between God and Caesar goes way beyond taxes.
I’m glad I don’t live under an imperial dictator. But if I think of Caesar as all the demands placed on me over which I have little or no control, Jesus’s words take on a broader meaning.
Do we reluctantly “render to God” the things we should want to give him gladly?
Time, talent, and treasure―three gifts from God that I can choose how to spend. I have a limited amount of each, and I want to use them wisely.
If I have a job, much of my time belongs to my employer. A lot of my treasure must be spent on the essentials of life: food, housing, clothing, and even taxes. But for most of us, there are money and time left over after Caesar gets his share.
Do I make sure I’m giving back to God a fair share of what He first gave me, remembering he gave me all of it?
Do I buy that extra pair of cute shoes I don’t really need when the money I spend would be enough to pay for food, shelter, and education for a month for a poor child?
Do I cut my Bible time so I can watch that movie or TV show if I have extra work and there’s not enough time for both?
If I have athletic gifts and love sports, do I skip church frequently to play those Sunday morning games?
God knows we live in Caesar’s world. He knows the demands it places on us. But we know as well as he does that we can meet Caesar’s demands and still have all we need to give to God, if we just make it a priority.
When you feel tempted to give God less so you can have more, what helps you resist?