Give back to God what belongs to Him

Published on 14 Oct 2020

Give back to God what belongs to him [1]. 

Let the taxes owed to the Roman emperor be paid to him.  Return to God what belongs to him.  Which of God’s possessions should be given back to him?  Do we not belong to God and should we not go back to him?  He has made us.  We seek him. We are on a path which will bring us into his presence. One day we will return to him definitively.  There are already many opportunities to give back to God what belongs to him.  We offer ourselves to him all the time: in our prayers; in our lives which we mean to be good; in our doing his will; and in our participation in the sacraments or in our longing to do so.

A contrast is drawn between what belongs to God and the coins, which bear Caesar’s head and name.  God holds us in being.  Our first allegiance is to him.  Proclaim to the nations, ‘God is king.’ [2]  Devotion to him comes before any other loyalty or duty.  I am the Lord, unrivalled [3]. We are a currency, stamped with the image of God.  ‘A bad penny’? ‘Not the full shilling’?  Taxation scoops up the imperial coinage.  Let me see the money you pay the tax with [4].  Caesar calls upon this resource to finance his wars and public works. God also has his purposes and his vision for us.  We are among the ways by which he makes his impact: guiding; providing; giving the strength that is needed.

Our creator esteems the worth of what he has made. Struck in his mint, we have, for him, high value.   We have been made in the image and likeness of God.  If we were coins, we would have been stamped with the divine.   We represent the One who has called us into life.  We belong to him.  Issued from his treasury, we are a trustworthy.  Sent into the world do good, we are meant to enrich those to whom we are dispatched.  We do so as disciples of Jesus Christ. The Son of Man has come to give his life as a ransom for many [5].  Like gold or silver, the Lord has been tested in the crucible.  By his passion, death and resurrection he enables us to do his will. He has always deemed us worth saving. Furthermore he recruits us to help his mission to spread salvation.  He values us as friends.  Judging us worthy, thanks to what he has done for us, he shares with us what his Father has entrusted to him [6].

Of our worth in God’s judgement, we may need a little persuading.  Have we not been found wanting by the difficulties which have tested us?  Have we not squandered the goodness which Christ has conferred on us?  The value, which we had when we were new-minted, has been undermined by foolish transactions?    The inscription which explains who owns us has, it seems, been almost obliterated.  The divine impress has been overlaid by grime.  As images of God we are now obscure and misleading.  Having our origins in him, we ought to inspire confidence. Instead we provoke worries about counterfeiting and fraud. Apart from me, all is nothing [7].  Misappropriated, gifts, meant to benefit others, have been prodigally scattered. Some are disappointed in us and even in the One who sent us. The coin does not ring true.

Jesus upends the money-tables [8].  He thoroughly re-values the currency. He saves, but does not hoard.  He transforms his disciples that we might live as he teaches.  When he was tested in the furnace, we were purified.  All that has been squandered, he seeks to retrieve.  The image of God is restored in Christ.  The stains are washed away.  The divine love, which had been obscured, now shines brightly again for others to see and imitate.  Worries about deceit are appeased by a joyful demonstration of the truth.  Jesus, profuse in integrity and goodness, wins us and many others to himself. The Good News came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction[9].   He allows the coin that is us once more to ring true as we follow him and share his good news.

Our belonging to God is, nevertheless, sometimes hard to accept.  He himself has taught us to be free.  We circulate as we wish. He has sent us out to do our best with the talents [10] which he has given us. We easily forget, however, that he is the source of everything.  We put out of mind also the scrutiny which is given to our accounts. He will judge the people in fairness[11]. Preoccupied with other kinds of accumulating, we neglect to work as we ought with what the Lord has entrusted to us. Have we buried the thought of judgement with the one talent in a secure place where it can do nothing?

We depend on God, who prizes our freedom.  He asserts his authority over us, but not as a slave-owner.   We belong to him as members of families do to each other.  He commands us to do what we most desire to accomplish. His gracious will for us is that we should be what we are meant to be. Having created us in his image, he is all the time assisting us to give this likeness to him its full value. His strength and goodness are in us and are finding fulfilment in us at our best.  We give glory to God not only for his own greatness but also because of the dignity and purpose with which he has enriched us.  The God-struck coin that is ourselves is legal tender while we live according to the commandments.  The currency holds its value when it gleams with the glory reflected from its source. We shine with the light with which we have been invested.  The golden words of the Gospel illuminate the actions which they inspire. 

Some critics of Jesus sought to trip him up.  They want to catch him out in a disrespectful remark about Caesar. We know in our hearts that Jesus has great authority over us.  He is God with us.  Yet we are sometimes tempted to see him as a rival to other authorities. The Lord is not in competition with Caesar or anyone else for our allegiance. Our discipleship is the most important thing.  Obedience to God is decisive.  In our thinking, saying and doing, he comes first.  Under him, we have other allegiances including political ones.  We pray for our rulers.  We try to meet their reasonable demands.  We ask for wisdom, for good government, for justice and for compassion.

We belong to God, like a currency that he has issued. The coinage is always being tested.  We are tarnished, but are we still sound?  This coin gleams: has it been well used to do plenty of good?  There is probing, assaying and weighing.  We are to show of what we have been made. God has made us like himself. Jesus has come into the world, suffered, died and risen again, to restore the divine image in us. He redeems us. He enables us to make an offering of ourselves.  We hand ourselves over.   What belongs to God we are restoring to him. He has not repented of his gift.  He is no bailiff repossessing, nor a miser hugging his ingots.   Life was given forever.  It is not now being taken away.  Life received, lived and offered back becomes eternal life with him.  The treasure in heaven is the communion of the saints. That which had grown illegible is now restored to clarity.   We render the coin that is us, which has always been treasured by our maker. We hand ourselves over. The coin falls into the treasury.  It is everything we have [12].  It is nothing and everything.  There is not much to us, it seems, but we belong to the One who made us and we are his image.  The Father welcomes us home.  The Son empties himself to save us. The Holy Spirit takes possession of us.  We are giving back to God what belongs to him.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Matthew 22.15

[2]              Psalm (96) 95.10

[3]              Isaiah 45.5

[4]              Matthew 22.19

[5]              Mark 10.45

[6]              John 15.15

[7]              Isaiah 45.6

[8]              Matthew 21.12

[9]              1 Thessalonians 1.5

[10]            Matthew 25.14-30

[11]            Psalm (96) 95.10

[12]            Mark 12.41-44 and Luke 2.1-4