There’s an interesting topic in the Synoptic Gospels. I refer to that part in which the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is licit to pay the tax imposed on them by Roman authorities. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this passage comes after Jesus’ speeches on the nature of the Church and before the eschatological discourse. The question about paying taxes is found in chapter 22, immediately before the question regarding levirate marriage (which concludes with the assertion of bodily resurrection).
Actually, if the Pharisees and Herodians wanted an answer from Jesus, it was not so to change their lives to the better, but only to have something to accuse Him of, before religious and profane authorities. They did not want to know the truth, but only to “entrap him in speech”.
Jesus’ answer is very interesting. Upon seeing the coin used to pay the tax, Jesus looks at Caesar’s image and says: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. But what does it mean giving God what belongs to God? Or better yet, what belongs to God? What can be called God’s? Certainly, the answer to this question is essential in order to be able to give to God what belongs to Him.
Yes, we know that God is the creator of all things; so, as a matter of fact, everything belongs to God, and everything (as the philosophical doctrine of reditus in finem asserts) comes back to God, who is the origin and the destination of all created beings. But Jesus is not talking of this almost automatic reditus, which is written in every creature’s nature. Yes, everything goes back to God, the final cause, because within creatures there’s that internal dynamism towards their origin. But Jesus is talking of something else. He wants to underline the fact of human freedom: it is us, men, who must use our freedom to ‘render unto God the things that are God’s’, to make created things turn back to God, who created them.
Jesus ask the meaning of the image on the coin. In a similar way, we could ask the meaning of the image creatures bear. We find God’s image in creatures, especially in man. Thus, we realize that creatures, particularly man, belong to God and to Him they should return. But again, no one must do it alone. Jesus’ invitation goes further: we ourselves are in part responsible for the other’s reditus to God. He wants that men help their fellows to return to Him. It’s almost like presenting men to God: it’s giving back to God what belongs to Him.
Photo credit: fabianmohr