Year A Ordinary 29
My favorite President of all time, Calvin Coolidge, was once asked at the end of his term what he was most proud of about his administration. He replied, “We minded our own business.” Coolidge was a classic New England Puritan personality, very frugal, very quiet, the type of person who believes that good fences make good neighbors. I appreciate what he’s getting at in a big picture sense, but when it comes to the way that we interact with each other on a personal level, we may have to part ways.
Our Lord has a saying of his own, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The first half of the saying is easy – pay your taxes, be a good citizen, follow the law. The second half is the real challenge. The question really is, what do we owe to God? What is it we are meant to give him? And further, because the commandment doesn’t end with “Love the Lord your God,” but continues, “…and your neighbor,” – What is it that we owe to each other?
The coin that Our Lord shows bearing the image of Caesar indicates that we have freedom. Not everything is politics or economics and we aren’t trapped by the society in which we dwell. No, we are free from the whims of this present age and are not captive to think like the world thinks, to be tossed about by the pressures of social opinion. We are in the world, yes, we give what we owe, but ultimately we are free of this world. What Caesar wants is not actually all that valuable.
The image of God is not on a coin but is imprinted on a treasure of far more value. Your very soul is crafted in his likeness, endowed with his supernatural ability to love, to seek beauty, to make decisions of your own free will, to dream about the future, and find your heart moved by memories of the past. These faculties are worth far more than money and they are not captive to this world. They arrive directly from God as his gift to us and they are what we owe him in return. The human heart is the coin of the kingdom of heaven.
God asks for the treasure of our heart, but this is a transaction that is conducted out of freedom, too, a freedom that expresses itself in our responsibility to each other. God will not entrap us, but his image places a certain weight upon us to not abandon each other.
Pope St. John Paul II has written a book called Love and Responsibility in which he links those two concepts together. He writes, “Love consists of a commitment which limits one’s freedom – it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one’s freedom on behalf of another.” In other words, we owe each other our love, because, as he later says, this is the only authentic way to truly relate to another person. Each person is made for the precise purpose of giving and receiving love. This means that at times we willingly limit our own desires for the sake of others. God’s economy is a strange one, though, and when you give something away it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have it anymore. St. John Paul goes on, “Limitation of one’s freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love.”
What is it that we owe to God? What is it that we owe to each other? God gives us the best part. He gives us his very Son to die on the Cross for us. He has called each one by name, chosen you, created you in his image for the sake of this sacrifice, an act of redemption so that we may be entirely his and he may be entirely ours. It isn’t taxes. It isn’t duty. It’s responsibility, and it is a gift.
The philosopher Jordan Peterson talks about what he calls the “pathological” obsession we seem to have with defending our rights and individual freedom to act in whatever way we please. It’s this attitude, “I owe nothing to any man.” We do what we have to do out of duty, but fight it every step of the way. This is the way that Caesar thinks. We weren’t made for Caesar, though, we were made by the God who is love in his very essence.
Give to God what is God’s. Don’t seek to evade giving what you owe. Jordan Peterson says, “Pick up the heaviest thing you can and carry it.” Give the best of yourself and you will be an overwhelming force for good. You may not be perfect yet, but despite any inadequacies you will achieve greatness and discover how beautiful God’s economy is, for it is based in the one, true, eternal reality that is etched into the very structure of your soul, that you were made by God, in his image, and he will render any cost for your salvation.
Bring gifts, and enter his courts.