“Some leaders tried to trap Jesus with this question: ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a coin and let me see it.’ And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'” (Mark 12:13-17)
It was a troubled time in Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Some extremists were pushing the idea that refusing to pay taxes was the way true patriots should show their resistance. Of course, that would be an act of civil disobedience that could get a person arrested. The crafty leaders were trying to tie Jesus up in a political argument that had no good solutions.
Jesus’ answer is a classic: in the familiar King James Version, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Well, it’s render-unto-Caesar time, and we’re all aware of our obligations to the Internal Revenue Service. Tax Day is usually April 15. However, this year it will be Monday, April 18, because the 15th is a Federal holiday (Emancipation Day) and the 16th and 17th fall on the weekend. That gives us a three-day grace period before we have to face the music. Just imagine what you will be able to do with your money during those three extra days!
But the important point of Jesus’ answer is that our obligation to God is even more of an issue than our obligation to the government. Those who tried to trap him find that they themselves are caught in a trap; their own spiritual failures suddenly become the focus of attention. And all who have read this story in the Gospels, over the hundreds of generations since Jesus threw out this challenge, are forced to look at their own lives and to recognize their unpaid debts to God. How can we ever hope to meet his deadlines?
If the IRS sometimes allows a grace period for us to gather our resources to pay what we owe, this is just a pale picture of the grace periods built into our interactions with God. In a sense, our salvation presupposes an infinite, eternal Grace Period, because we can never truly pay our debts to God. But there are still patterns and rules to be followed in life, and we regularly miss the little spiritual deadlines we should be meeting as his followers. His grace periods give us relief from a constant sense of guilt and failure.
But we should never allow ourselves to become presumptuous, assuming we have a right to his grace. Paul warned the Roman church against such an attitude in these strong words: “Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that Gods kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? By your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). God’s grace should never be seen as our right, but always as an undeserved love-gift from him to us. We should always be surprised by God’s grace.
Maybe there’s some response of thankfulness you have been neglecting to pay to God. It’s long overdue. Use the three days grace period between April 15 and April 18 as a reminder that you have failed to “render to God the things that are God’s.”