Tobit 1:9-14; Mark 12:13-17
"Then she replied to me, 'Where are your acts of charity?'" "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."
The first reading from Tobit has a really strange story; the Gospel reading has a line that seems very familiar. Tobit is a good man who is blinded and confused. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is ready with a snappy retort when the Pharisees try to trap him. One translation has it, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." I remember an older wording, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's . . . ."
We take comfort in thinking that we know what the Gospel means: you have to live in the world and pay your bills, but render to God -- what? An hour on Sunday? A contribution in the collection basket?
Tobit's story seems unjust, but we do know (although we don't like) that bad things do happen to good people all the time. Surely, though, this isn't simply about injustice; it seems to be about faithfulness even when blinded and confused. And the Gospel teaching seems to be about simple justice, but there's more there - - something we need to find in faith.
Someone mentioned to me that the "Render unto Caesar" teaching implies that TWO images are contrasted -- Caesar's picture on the coin, and the very Image of God -- where? Well, all around us in these lovely long days of the beginning of June, all golden light and soft greens against reaching blue. But the real answer is in the first chapter of Genesis, where God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness." So what I am to "render" to God is -- me!
How can I really give to God what is God's? How can I believe I am really made according to God's likeness? It's hard to choose, discern, prioritize, and use wisely the resources God has given me -- like good weather, and Time! And Tobit's story warns that doing God's work in the world doesn't guarantee happiness or health or prosperity. But though I am blinded and confused, I can try to be faithful to the attempt to believe that I am God's image and to "render" my ALL -- including ALL the good gifts given me, the acts of charity I do and receive, and even, surely, my blindness and confusion.
By Mary Haynes Kuhlman