Anthony was a young eye specialist. He had been practising for only a few years but people were saying of him that he worked miracles. More experienced doctors were sending him difficult cases and the results were amazing. One day, the Health Minister was visiting the hospital where he worked and praised his achievements. The young man replied: “Thank you, Sir. I, too, rejoice in what I manage to do to help people, but I must say that much of this is due to one of my professors at the University. He helped me with the fees, he supervised my work and he has helped me with advice and encouragement all along. The people I heal have a debt to him also.”
It is good to meet a young man with such honesty. He was not afraid to say that he did not manage everything by himself. He admitted that he had success as a specialist but he also gave credit to the professor who had helped him become what he was. He did not want to keep for himself all the praises and gratitude he was receiving. He was giving back some of the credit to whom it belonged – to his professor. Sad to say, we often meet people boasting about everything they do and can do. They claim they have succeeded in this, and they have managed in that all by themselves. Yet, people around know well that half of their words are empty talk and borrowed fame since, in fact, other people have made it possible for them to succeed.
Today’s gospel has something to tell us about this. We hear Jesus say: “Give back to Caesar what belong to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. ”These words were spoken by Jesus in answer to a question put to him. Caesar, the Roman emperor, was ruling over the Jews who had to pay taxes to him. He was a stranger and the Jews hated him. They did not like paying taxes to him but had little choice about it. The Jewish leaders want to trap Jesus and they ask him the question: “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus knew that they had already solved the question since they were carrying the coins! His wise reply caught them by surprise.
What about us? We are not under the Roman ruler but Jesus’ words are important for us as well. We can ask: “In our lives, what belongs to God?” He is our Creator, he deserves our praise and glory. He is the Giver of all things, to him belong our gratitude and thanksgiving. He is our Father, a Father who watches over us, cares for all our needs, loves us and forgives us. He deserves our trust and our love in return. All that we are and have comes from him: our life and health, our intelligence and memory, our qualities and abilities. He has blessed us with our family and relatives, with faithful friends and helpful neighbours. He has crowned our efforts with success, helped us to overcome difficulties and kept us from harm.
Giving to God what belongs to God means: to accept that all that we are and have is his gift. And to use his many gifts in a way pleasing to him – to his glory, for the good of others and our own benefit, as he meant it. Writing to the first Christians, Paul once said: “What have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1Cor.4:7). A good text to keep in mind.