We are not as cunning as we think we are! When I was little, there were two punishments I received: soap in the mouth or spanking. However, as a 5 year old, I had a brilliant idea to get around this form of punishment. Of course, I had to test my theory, so I went into the doorway of the kitchen where my mom was and said a curse word. This triggered the consequence of a punishment, but I ran to the couch where I sat down and covered my mouth thinking I had beaten the system! Little did I know the strength of my mom, and I came to realize that my plan had failed.
In our Gospel this weekend, the Pharisees think that they are cunning and can entrap Jesus by asking him a simple question about paying taxes to Caesar, “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17) If Jesus would say yes to paying taxes he would be implicit with a foreign power and the people would revolt. If he said no, the Roman Empire would punish him for encouraging dissidence among the people.
Jesus, however, asks to see a coin. When the Pharisees present the coin, it shows the hypocrisy of Caesar by carrying an image of the Emperor who claimed to be a god. Then Jesus bypasses their entire trap by replying with the simple phrase, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”(Mt 22:22)
This is a challenge to us too. We know that the coins belong to Caesar, and in our daily lives this means being a responsible citizen and giving respect to the proper authorities. What is God’s? It is our very selves. We all bear the image of God within our souls, and are called to give our very lives back to God! This may seem like an impossible task, but God reveals through Christ that he is willing to model what he is asking of us; Jesus Christ offers us his very self!
Let us reject any ways of trying to outsmart God by avoiding that which he is asking of us. God calls each of us to know him and love him, even if we are not aware of it or if we try to ignore or outsmart him. He says this same thing to the Persian King Cyrus in the first reading: “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not” (Isaiah 45:4). Everything we have we owe to the goodness of God, and he desires that we put him at the center of our lives. Let us turn away from those things that prevent us from giving ourselves over to the Lord.