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Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Today our Holy Church calls us to recall and honor the heritage of our members and of all people. It is a celebration of who we are as people — the gifts God has given us. More importantly, the Church calls us to properly order what is most important in our lives.
Whether our ancestors came to this country as immigrants, as indentured servants or involuntarily as slaves – we are called to honor their heritage and innate human dignity. We are to remember the struggles they faced and the battles they fought to grasp the freedom, honor, and dignity they and we are all entitled to. Where we come from is important because it is a part of who we are. Each culture and heritage enriches our common life and we share in each other’s heritage as members of God’s family.
The early Church recognized the gifts the faithful brought to the Church. Most importantly, it recognized that in Jesus Christ we all have equal membership in the one family of faith regardless of background. Heritage is a gift to be shared in the one family of faith. Thus, St. Paul reminded the Church at Galatia: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
While we honor each person’s heritage, we must remember that in Jesus we are equal members in His family and that we are called to properly order what we worship.
What does that mean? It means that while we honor heritage and the gifts of each nation we must not make heritage or nation an object of worship.
Jesus is reminding the Pharisees of this proper ordering. Our first and foremost obligation is to give to God what is God’s. When we let anything interfere with the proper ordering of our relationship with Him – politics, national affinity, or heritage – when we quibble over this or that being most important, we lose touch with that which must come first in our lives.
Jesus’ response to His questioners offers us a guide to properly ordering our worship. The Roman coin – Caesar’s – referred to him as a god. Jesus reminded them (and us) that we cannot give worship to both God and Caesar. We have to choose our focus of worship and properly order our priorities. We should chose only God as the sole focus of our devotion and worship. By placing Him first we clearly proclaim that He alone is our God.