We live our lives torn in many directions. From the moment we wake up there are a hundred and one claims on our time. We have to look after our homes and our families. We have to go to work and deal with a whole range of tasks form the very important to the totally banal. We have to fill in forms, pay bills, make calls, answer emails, maintain the car, and pick up the shopping. If we’re very lucky we might just squeeze in a bit of leisure time. But in our lives torn by conflicting interests, how do we make time for God?
The Pharisees and the Herodians in today’s gospel decided to set a trap for Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor,” they asked, “or not?” they were confident that they had put Jesus in a ‘no win’ situation. If Jesus said “taxes should be paid to Caesar, then this was something akin to treason. If however Jesus said that the taxes should be paid, he would be denounced to the strict Jews. Jesus replied, “Give to the emperor, the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
It is tempting to imagine that Jesus might have been talking about compartments. We imagine a compartment for things belonging to Caesar, and a compartment for things belonging got God. Of course there could be no such compartments, because as we know everything comes from God, so everything must belong to God. So had Jesus really answered the question, or merely sidestepped it?
Perhaps today we struggle with Jesus’ answer as much as the Pharisees and Herodians must have done. Perhaps we see life as a conflict between God’s claim on us and all life’s other claims in just the way God’s enemies were suggesting. Perhaps we try to put God into a Sunday morning compartment and even that will conflict with the children’s football and the D.I.Y. What Jesus tells us today is liberating. Once we learn to allow God into every corner of our lives our lives become whole instead of torn and fragmented. Once we know that our only loyalty is to God there can be no conflict.