by Lisa Fernandes
“Nothing is certain except death and taxes” as Benjamin Franklin said, referring humorously to secular absolute truths. In today’s readings, though, we hear about absolute truths according to God.
In the first, we hear the absolute that there is one God: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God.” (Isaiah 45.5)
In the second, we are told we have absolutely been chosen by God: “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you…” (1 Thessalonians 1.4)
When we get to the Gospel, the discussion about absolutes is not as clear; we have to think about the relationship between Christianity, secular government and society. Jesus avoids the trick but answers the question of the Herodians and Pharisees when they ask Him if the Jews should pay taxes to the Romans.
The Pharisees thought that if He said yes, He would be betraying His people and collaborating with the enemy, Rome. The Herodians thought if He said no He would be a traitor to Rome. Instead, He said: “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (Matthew 22.21) Jesus gave them a truthful answer but one that isn’t a simple absolute yes or no, but requires reflection and acting with the right intentions.
What is Jesus saying? There has been a lot of scholarly discussion about this passage and many interpretations. I see it as acknowledgement that it is often a difficult line to walk between the secular and the spiritual but they are not separate; they complement each other. A good person will both pay taxes and follow God’s law.
It can sometimes be difficult to know what the right thing to do is, though, as there are many trying to persuade us, and many mistruths; we do not want to be tricked into doing wrong nor dissuaded from doing good.
While Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true”, we are not alone in discerning the right path to take as we have the help of God, our fellow parishioners, and the church community to help give us clarity.
- Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
- Psalm 96
- Thessalonians 1.1-5ab
- Matthew 22.15-21