Week of Last Epiphany: Tuesday, Year 1 (Shrove Tuesday)   6 comments

Above:  A Coin, from 36 C.E., Bearing the Image of the Emperor Tiberius

What Belongs to Caesar and What Belongs to God

FEBRUARY 21, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Tobit 2:9-14 (Revised English Bible):

That night, after bathing myself, I went into my courtyard and lay down to sleep by the courtyard wall, leaving my face uncovered because of the heat.  I did not know that there were sparrows in the wall above me, and their droppings fell, still warm, right into my eyes and produced white patches.  I went to the doctors to be cured, but the more they treated me with their ointments, the more my eyes became blinded by the white patches, until I lost my sight.  I was blind for four years; my kinsmen grieved for me, and for two years Ahikar looked after me, until he moved to Elymais.

At that time Anna my wife used to earn money by women’s work, spinning and weaving, and her employees would pay her when she took them what she had done.  One day, on the seventh of Dystrus, after she had cut off the piece she had woven and delivered it, they not only paid her wages in full, but also gave her a kid from her herd of goats to take home.  When my wife came into the house to me, the kid began to bleat, and I called out to her:

Where does that kid come from?  I hope it was not stolen.

But she assured me:

It was given me as a present, over and above my wages.

I did not believe her and insisted that she return it, and I blushed with shame for what she had done.  Her rejoinder was:

So much for all your acts of charity and all your good works!  Everyone can now see what you are really like.

Psalm 112:1-2, 7-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Happy are they who fear the Lord

and who have great delight in his commandments!

2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land;

the generation of the upright will be blessed.

7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors;

their heart is right;

they put their trust in the Lord.

8 Their heart is established and will not shrink,

until they see their desire upon their enemies.

9 They have given freely to the poor,

and their righteousness stands fast for ever;

they will hold up their head with honor.

Mark 12:13-17 (Revised English Bible):

A number of the Pharisees and men of Herod’s party were sent to trap him with a question.  They came and said,

Teacher, we know you are a sincere man and court no one’s favour, whoever he may be; you teach in all sincerity the way of life that God requires.  Are we or are we not permitted to pay taxes to the Roman emperor?  Shall we pay or not?

He saw through their duplicity, and said,

Why are you trying to catch me out?  Fetch me a silver piece, and let me look at it.

They brought one, and he asked them,

Whose head is this, and whose inscription?

They replied,


Then Jesus said,

Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and God what belongs to God.

His reply left them completely taken aback.


The Collect:

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The story of Tobit continues.  He goes blind due to natural causes and begins to feel helpless.  He lashes out verbally at his wife, accusing her of stealing a young goat, and she rebukes him, understandably.  But, if one continues to read, Tobit realizes that he has accused her unjustly, and prays immediately for forgiveness.   He is imperfect, but he does the right thing more often than not.  And Tobit understands his duties to God.

Duties to God, especially versus those to the occupying Roman Empire, reside at the heart of the reading from Mark.  Jewish religious and political elites collaborating with the empire ask Jesus a question meant to entrap him.  Is it lawful to pay the small annual poll tax to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius?  This was not a major source of imperial revenue, but it did remind the Jews living under occupation in their homeland who was in charge, at least in the temporal realm.  This poll tax was payable in a coin bearing the image of the emperor and a written reminder of the official line, which was he was the “Divine Caesar.”  Such a coin was a purposeful affront to Jewish sensibilities.  The tax was in the amount a denarius, or one day’s wage, and men aged 14-65 years and women aged 12-65 had to pay it.  This was a despised tax, and the Romans were rubbing the Jews’ noses in it.

This was a dicey political situation for Jesus.  If he said, “No, this is unjust taxation,” he would be in trouble with the Romans.  And many soldiers were in town during the days leading up to the Passover, the annual commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.  Some of them could arrest Jesus at a moment’s notice.  But if he said, “Yes, Tiberius is our emperor, and he deserves our respect, too,” Jesus would lose much public support.   Our Lord and Savior, being perceptive and intelligent, delivered a faultless answer:  The coin belongs to Tiberius; pay it.  But give to God what is due to God.  And what is due to God?  We owe God the pattern of our daily living.

Simply put, the goal of life should be that it will consist increasingly of prayer.  How we live ought to be a prayer.  Too often we think of prayer only as “talking to God.”  There is nothing wrong with oral prayer, but the words we address to God need to be only part of prayer life.  A sense of the sacred ought to inform even the simplest, most mundane actions.  The character Tobit understood this, and repented when he went astray.  So should we.

For none of us has life in himself,

and none becomes his own master when he dies.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,

and if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

we are the Lord’s possession.

–From The Burial of the Dead:  Rite Two, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), quoting Romans 14:7-8




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