During the height of the Cold War, we heard frightening stories of Russian children spying and reporting on their parents who were secretly Christian or in any way disloyal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party sought total control over its citizens. As a child, its demands scared me, and I wondered where my allegiance would fall.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, the Pharisees attempt to entrap Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Jesus cleverly responds, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Though meant to be a trick question for Jesus only, the question remains a quandary for Christians of all time: What belongs to Caesar? And what belongs to God? To whom must we give our allegiance?
The image of Caesar, imprinted on Roman coins, claimed ownership over all Roman citizens, while God’s image remains imprinted upon each human heart—for all time. Throughout history, the state has primarily valued citizens for their productivity while God values the human person for his or her inherent worth as beloved sons and daughters. The state attempts control over its citizens, while God seeks freedom for each person. The state’s nature is utilitarian while God’s nature is love—sacrificial, total and complete.
So, what belongs to Caesar? What belongs to God? Certainly, government may serve in working for the common good, but we must be diligent in discerning what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.
We pay federal taxes for the national park system, and we give God the glory for the preservation of such incredible beauty, but must we fund abortion or border walls?
We pay state taxes for infrastructure, and thank God for our safety on the roads, but are we spending enough on the state patrol or mental health issues?
We pay property taxes for public schools and are thankful for education available for all children, but are we caring properly for those with special needs and are the teachings in accordance with our values and beliefs?
Though we strive to be good citizens, we are first and foremost accountable to God and must determine which laws are helpful or harmful for our children’s eternal welfare.
As parents, we must be clear: our children belong to God and to God alone. No president, no state, no government—no matter how benevolent—should take control of, or make moral or religious decisions for, our children. Parents have a God-given duty to serve as primary educators, leaders and guardians of their children. A government may have a financial interest in encouraging its citizens to be industrious, but Christian parents have a vested, eternal interest in forming their children into fruitful, free, holy and loving disciples of Jesus Christ—as citizens of the communion of saints.
We name grace—God’s loving presence—each time we assure our children they have nothing to fear and that nothing—not anything nor anyone—should place a wedge between parent and child. We name grace each time we demonstrate to our children, through word and action, that God comes first in all our allegiances and decisions.
Will we give to Caesar or to God? Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev—presidents, dictators and governments—come and go, but there is no God besides the Lord, Jesus Christ, worthy of our praise and allegiance today, tomorrow and forever! Now, that’s good news!
To whom do you give your allegiance?
To whom will you entrust your children?