This famous quotation -“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” has been one of the timeless quotes in human history because today it still speaks to our sensibility in our everyday affairs. On the other hand, it has been sometimes misrepresented and misused. In the gospel, the actions of the Pharisees and the Herodians, two different and opposing groups, teaming up to use the question about taxes to test Jesus in other to have something against him and have him killed, showed how uncomfortable and uneasy they were with the soul searching teachings of Jesus.
Nevertheless, Jesus being aware of their mischief and evil intentions gave a disarming response- “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This has been described by many scholars as an elusive response. However, Christ by that statement made it implicitly clear that respect to Caesar, by extension civil authorities which is a moral duty, must not be at the detriment of our faith and the worship we give to God, who is revealed in the first reading as the Lord unrivalled by any other god. Again, as R.J. Rushdoony puts it, “He wanted to deliver them, in the Socratic manner, not a priori, but a posteriori. Not their logical or moral sense, but their historical situation and attitude would bring the truth to light. [Because Jesus knew that] something is to be seen, and deduced, from the denarius itself.”
Jesus’ message is that life is a unity; it is not separated as a result of our religious and civil obligations. God willed it that we live our life in the world paying taxes, obeying secular laws and working for the betterment of the society, though with our eyes set on our commitment to the creator who owns everything (Psalm 24:1) including Caesar. In the world today and in different countries, there are laws that are oppressive to the plight of women, the refugees and the poor. Amidst such situation, we ought to live our life with the mindset of obedience to God and when laws are morally questionable to become instruments of God’s love and justice.