As I reflected on what I would discuss this month, I felt called to juxtapose two familiar quotes. The first comes from a hero of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, written in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789. Franklin said,
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
If you are reading this on April 15th, I apologize if you feel as if I have poured salt into a gaping wound. I offer a prayer if you still need to file your taxes with Uncle Sam. I also commiserate if you owe money, having already bit the bullet and sent in a check for several thousand dollars. Tax day provides a painful reminder that while geniuses can make a cell phone more powerful than an old home computer, they can’t figure out a way to get rid of the IRS. Still, even if they got rid of the paperwork, the feds would find a way to take your money.
As certain as we will pay taxes, we will also die. Scriptures points to only two people, Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Enoch (Hebrews 11:5) who escaped death. As Catholics we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary, but even they had an end of life experience. There comes a point in every person’s life when one truly comes to grips with their own mortality. Unfortunately for some, that moment arrives only at their death bed. After losing five friends to cancer in the span of five years, the Lord asked me to face my mortality much earlier than most. This has defined my discipleship, formed my writing, and redirected my life.
This brings me to the next quote. They are the words of Our Lord spoken to the Pharisees in response to an attempt to trick him into taking sides either for or against the Romans.
“Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” – Our Lord in Matthew 22:21.
Jesus does not fall for the trap and instead tells us to take our Father’s side. What if we applied this reasoning to Benjamin Franklin’s quote? The gold coin that bore the face of Caesar belonged to Caesar and so did the taxes the Jews had to pay, but can we extend this concept even further? What if Jesus didn’t just mean Caesar, the man, but Caesar as a representation of the world? Can Our Lord want us to give back to the world all things that are worldly?
What about the other half of both quotes? Franklin tells us death is certain but Jesus tells us to give God what is God’s. Since the power over life and death belongs to God, I ask you to consider that just as Caesar can represent the world when Jesus asks you to give up of worldly worries, Jesus is asking you to give your entire life to the Father. It belongs to God. Sell all you have and follow me (Matthew 19:21). Leave your father and mother and follow me (Luke 14:26). Let the dead bury the dead (Luke 9:60). The harsh emphasis that Jesus puts on this call is repeated throughout the Gospels.
As Christians in a secular world, we have many responsibilities that we must fulfill. These belong to “Caesar”. Jesus Christ says give your life to Him. In His wisdom, He gave us the Church and the Sacraments to strengthen us. We will struggle, we will fall, we will suffer, and we will die. Throughout all of that we will find moments of grace, be lifted out of darkness, be healed of our iniquities, and hope for eternal life. This year, symbolically, we leave both the tax season and Lent behind and enter into Easter. May we find comfort and joy in the glory of the Resurrection.