Transcending Definitions

Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent
to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech.
They came and said to him,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.
You do not regard a person’s status
but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or should we not pay?”
Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them,
“Why are you testing me?
Bring me a denarius to look at.”
They brought one to him and he said to them,
“Whose image and inscription is this?”
They replied to him, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.
(Mark 12:13-17)

Scripture Study

12:13 Pharisees … Herodians: Two opposing groups in NT Palestine. They stand far apart in their political outlook but close together in their opposition to Jesus (3:6). The Pharisees opposed the Roman rule and occupation of Palestine, whereas the Herodians were sympathetic to Rome’s government of Israel through the Herodian dynasty. ensnare him: Roman taxation was a sensitive and potentially explosive issue for Jews of the NT period. Jesus’ opponents thus confront him on the tax in order to trap and eliminate him once and for all. The dilemma they pose appears inescapable: If Jesus agrees with the tax, he will lose credibility with the majority of Jews embittered by Roman rule; if Jesus rejects the tax, he will be reported to the Roman governor for instigating rebellion.

12:16 Whose likeness …? Jesus responds with a riddle that plays on the word “likeness”. Because Caesar’s likeness is stamped on the coin for the tax, it should be given back to him as his rightful property. God’s image and likeness, however, is stamped into every living person, including Caesar (Gen 1:27). Even more important than civil responsibilities is the obligation everyone, including Caesar, has to give himself back to God. In the end, Jesus is able to rise above the controversy over taxation by stressing this higher duty incumbent upon all (CCC 450).

Scripture Reflection

Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus escapes from a trap with one of his most famous one-liners: “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” We should not read this as though there is a clearly-demarcated political realm that belongs to the Caesars of the world, and a clearly-demarcated spiritual realm that belongs to God. And we certainly shouldn’t read it in the modern mode—that the public arena belongs to politics, while religion is relegated to the private dimension.

No, this won’t do, precisely because God is God. He’s not a being in or above the world, nor one reality among many. God is the sheer act of being itself, which necessarily pervades, influences, grounds, and has to do with everything, even as he transcends everything in creation.

God is the deepest source for everything in life from sports to law to the arts to science and to medicine. What has seized the lawyer (at his best) is a deep passion for justice, and God is justice itself; what has seized the doctor (at his best) is a deep passion for alleviating suffering, and God is love itself. Everything comes from God and returns to God.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.