Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This phrase has become ever-present in our times. At face value, it seems like a support for the separation of “church and state,” and encouragement for us each to be responsible civic as well as religious accountability–and that those are very separate undertakings. We have duty to the state, and duty to our God.
However, I don’t believe that is what Jesus is talking about here. We have to be careful about reading our own cultural norms into the culture of Jesus’ day. And that’s not helpful if we’re looking for the truth.
Caesar wasn’t just the secular head of state there in Israel…he was self-proclaimed to be a god. Caesar was worshipped–with full religious honors, and those who didn’t exalt Caesar as Lord were in trouble. The Pharisees, by even having a Roman coin in their pocket self-identified themselves as part of the pagan-religious-state giving honor to another god. They have broken the first and second commandments. They would have known the words of King Solomon, and echoed in many of our worship services every week: “All things come of thee, O God, and of thine own do we give to thee.”
So apparently then, Jesus reply isn’t a call for separation of state and religion. This isn’t the establishment of a dual responsibility to God and country. This is a call to give all that we have and all that we are to God. We might even say that Jesus calls us to think about in whose image we are made, and being made in God’s image, all that we are and hope to be we owe to God. As we walk with Jesus this week let us consider if we are giving our all to God in how we serve and love our neighbor as ourselves, and that means in all our relationships as citizens and as children of God. Perhaps both our religious and civic lives could use a little more of our giving to God in these days.
So often I sit silent when I need to speak up regarding my Christian faith. So often I just get angry at those I think are wrong, but I do not engage them in conversation, supposing to avoid any arguments. How about you? In this time when we choose candidates for government office, when there are injustices that are occurring in our world we need to consider what we owe to God, not just financially, but actively and spiritually because we are created in God’s image. We have been created to not become little gods, but to grow into God’s nature of loving others.
- What issues are you willing to speak up for, or against, that says you are made in the image of God?
- What does it mean to you to be made in the image of God?
- How are you growing into God’s loving nature?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.