Isaiah 45:1.4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
One of the things I would like to ask God to do for me when I get to heaven is to put before me all the items (books, CDs, DVDS, and an assortment of other things) which, over the years of my life, I have loaned to people and never got back. I’d love to see how big the pile would be. My memory for these things is not really good. People say, why don’t you keep a record? But I even forget to do that.
I had Canadian lectionary in two volumes which I was very lucky to obtain as there were only limited copies printed. A priest noticed them on my shelf and asked to borrow Volume Two, as he was thinking of buying a set. That was seven years ago and I’ve still only got a widowed copy of Volume One on my shelf. And I have no idea who that priest might be.
To give is, of course, very different from giving back. What we give God is usually only ‘given back’ – unless we give him our sins, the only things which truly belong to us. All the rest, time, life, body, mind, soul, family, health, joy, and so on, are all God’s gift to us.
So what does it mean to give back what belongs to God and why does God command us to do so?
I think the answer to the first part of the question is most easily seen in the lives of the saints.
Take any of them and we can easily see how they gave back to God the gift of time which he had given them. They gave the seconds, the minutes, the hours of their days, and the months and years of their lives to the service of God and his people. They kept nothing for themselves but wholeheartedly surrendered their lives to the Lord of Time.
There is, perhaps, no more revealing and accurate indicator of our relationship to God than the amount and quality of the time we give back to him. Those who are serious about God in their lives know that an hour a week at Sunday Mass and a short prayer before meals, is simply not enough. We could not sustain a meaningful relationship with our wife or husband or anyone else for that matter if we allowed ourselves only this time to communicate with them.
A weekday Mass (daily Mass even, for those who are retired and able), the daily Rosary, some time in silent adoration in the church, are all ways to draw closer to him through the giving back of the time he has given us.
Now pause for a moment and consider the great gift you have from God in the intelligence (the mind) he has given you. When all is said and done that gift is given so that we might come to know and love him. This is its ultimate reason for being, so that the faith we have been given might seek understanding. In other words, if a person lived their whole life on earth but never came to know God and to love God, their intellect would have fallen short of its purpose and therefore failed to reach its fulfilment.
Let us not hesitate to question ourselves on this point. Do we give our minds to God? Do we give time to the reading of, and the study of the scriptures? Do we study the content of the Faith? Do we bring our lives into harmony with the teaching of Christ as he gives it through his Bride, the Church? Can we defend the Faith from those who attack it? We apply our minds to the study of so many material and secular things but do we apply them to the study of the things of God?
St Francis of Assisi deliberately stripped himself of absolutely everything so that he might give himself totally back to God. He did this because he well understood God’s command. He understood that God wants total union with us and that we are completed as human persons by seeking total union with God. After giving away his money, rank, and good name he was ready to offer God what God really wanted: Francis. And it was only then that Francis himself was fulfilled, completed, made whole. It was only then that Francis found himself. But there is a startling truth we must add.
By ourselves, on our own, as sinners before the Lord, none of us is completely pleasing to God, no matter how good we are. That is why we needed a Mediator - and that is why he gave us a Mediator. Jesus is God's greatest gift to us and that is why in its ultimate, definitive meaning, ‘to give back to God what belongs to God’, is to give back to the Father the totally pleasing gift of his only begotten Son, Jesus. And, of course, as Catholics we understand that this gift is made in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Francis’ gift of himself was acceptable to the Father because it was incorporated into the sacrifice of Christ to his Father. We ordinary disciples of the Lord may not have arrived at the perfection of Francis’ self-offering but let us make sure, at least, that we are travelling the road which leads to its destination.