2 Peter 3:12-15a, 17-18
There is a line in today’s Gospel that is frequently quoted: "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." It is often interpreted as a guide for how a Christian should relate to civil authority. But when the Pharisees and the Herodians asked Jesus, "is it lawful?," they were asking, "Is this right in the eyes of God?" For the law they were referring to was not civil law but the Law of Moses. This law was given to bring the Hebrew people closer to God and repair humankind’s relationship with Him.
So when Jesus says, "Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s," is He just talking about paying your taxes?
Perhaps He was giving us a way to order our lives. There are times when I agree with the psalmist–"Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong, and most of them are fruitless toil, for they pass quickly and we drift away." I often find myself running through my day, constantly reviewing the many to-do lists in my head, revising and reordering them based on shifting circumstances and my energy level. I operate under the illusion that if I can just get the order correct, if I can clear all of today’s lists and set up tomorrow’s before I drop off to sleep I will be as Peter suggests, "Found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace." However, when I am only focused on clearing my lists, that peace evades me. Jesus in this lesson points to the solution.
Keeping the ordinary details of my life in order seems to me to fall under ‘repay to Caesar.’ Jesus says we are to do these things. But we are also to pay to God what is God’s. I wonder if Jesus isn’t telling us to go about our lives, do those things required of us by this world, but remember that just doing them doesn’t elevate them to the level of grace. Grace comes about when I tend to my relationship with God, whether in quiet prayer alone or in the interactions with other people that come about while ‘paying my taxes.’
Talib Huff is a volunteer at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center in Citrus Heights, California.