Did you know that if you type in a single word to the Google search engine, it will give you a full definition? It comes in handy for a guy like me who likes to use fifty-cent words, but didn’t read much in high school or college or, well, life in general, and so I have to look them up. I used it this morning to look up the word “render” because I knew of at least two meanings. In fact, there are six for the verb form of the word. My favorite definition ranks fifth on Google, “to melt down fat.” Grilling and bacon cooking are made infinitely better because of rendering, but that isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he answered the question about paying taxes from the Pharisees and Herodians by saying, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (KJV)
More modern translations tell us that Jesus said to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” (NIV) which is a good translation of render, but not so much of what Matthew has Jesus actually saying. The Greek verb which is translated as “render” or “give” is actually apodidomai,
which means “to give back.” It is a subtle difference, but one worth paying attention to because it applies not just to the things of Caesar, but more importantly, to the things of God since Jesus uses only one verb in the sentence. “Give back to Caesar the stuff that belongs to him and give back to God what belongs to God.” In both cases, Jesus notes that nothing we have is our own. The coin, a Denarius Tiberius, used to pay the Census Tax was manufactured by and received it value from the Empire. Money, be it a Roman coin or an American bill stamped with “In God we Trust” may seem like it comes by way of our own hard work, but in reality, it only exists because we are a part of an economic system that renders (definition #2) it worth something. If the Empire asks for it back in the way of taxes, Jesus says, then give it back.
On the other hand, everything else, from the air we breathe to the lungs that transition it into our blood streams, is a gift from God. Specifically, in his language Jesus seems to point especially to the very gift of life itself. In what seems like an obvious reference to Genesis 1:26, Jesus reminds us that as humans we carry the image or icon of God. We belong to God and so our whole lives should be lived as a gift offered back to God, in thanksgiving for the blessings that we have received. This, of course, has huge ramifications. It means that every decision we make: from what shoes to buy to what career path to follow to how much bacon to consume; is done with God’s gift of life and grace in mind. Giving back to God the things that belong to him doesn’t mean giving 10% to the Church, it means living a life of discipleship each and every moment.