We are waiting for the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire. But we wait for new heavens and a new earth according to his promise, where righteousness will be at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.
You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Some Pharisees and some Herodians were sent to Jesus to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 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 denarius 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." And they were utterly amazed at him.
The question put to Jesus in today's gospel is not a sincere one. It is an effort to trap him. If he replied "Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar," he would lose the esteem of the many Jewish people who resented the Roman presence; if he said, "No, do not pay your taxes to Caesar" he would be liable to arrest and trial by the Romans. Jesus was asked many questions in the course of his public ministry and when the question came from a heart that was genuinely searching he took it very seriously. On this occasion, however, Jesus' questioners were simply out to trap him. Yet Jesus answered this question, insincere as it was. In a succinct and somewhat enigmatic fashion he declared that people should give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. The coin can be given to Caesar because it belongs to him, but what is to be given to God is something much more fundamental.
A little later in that same chapter of Mark's gospel, Jesus spells out what is due to God -- God is to be loved with all our heart, soul and mind. God is to be our first and greatest love, our primary commitment. That certainly can never be said of any human authority, be it political or otherwise. Jesus is saying that no Caesar, no political institution, no human institution can ever take the place of God in our lives.
Although the passage from 2 Peter begins with the awesome, appearance of "new heavens and a new earth," it soon turns to ordinary life and homespun virtues. And today's gospel has a delightful piece of humour that hurts no one but still manages to put the haughty person in his place.
It is good for soul and body to find our daily life mirrored in the Scriptures. If our lives are reflected in the Bible, then God must be present in our homes, even amid our quarrels and banter. The key virtue is perseverance, a faithfulness whose heart is love, balanced with humour. As the most enigmatic writer in the Bible says: "Be not just to excess, and be not overly wise, lest you be ruined. Be not wicked to excess, and be not foolish. Why should you die before your time?" (Eccles 7:16-17)
The gospel has this profound but enigmatic remark, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's but to God what is God's." Jesus may not always answer our questions in detail but he always supports honesty and compassion and forgiveness. The Pharisees who questioned him were not looking for wisdom so, "knowing their hypocrisy" Jesus began his reply with the question, "Why are you trying to trip me up?"
Peter also promotes an attitude of prudence and trust while we await "new heavens and a new earth where… the justice of God will reside." "Justice," in the biblical sense, means the fulfilment of all God's promises. While this fulfilment is accomplished by God, we contribute our homespun virtues. "Be found without stain or defilement."