What should we give our country?
As I grapple with personal frustrations over executive actions in my country that endanger our environment, that pull away care and protection from our sick and our elderly, and that marginalize people on the basis of ethnicity, I come upon something Jesus said about my responsibility as a citizen. When asked whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar or not, Jesus told those who were questioning Him to bring Him a coin. He asked them whose image was on the coin, then said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s….”
What does this mean to me? For one thing, it means that I must pay my taxes.
Across the top of the dollar bill in my wallet are the words, “Federal Reserve Note.” This tells me that the piece of paper in my wallet with a picture of George Washington carries the backing of the United States of America. If I took a piece of paper with my picture on it to the grocery store and tried to buy a pack of gum with it, the clerk would laugh me out of the store, for it has no backing of anyone but me and thus carries no actual value. But if I give to the clerk the piece of paper with the words “Federal Reserve Note,” I can purchase the pack of gum because that piece of paper has the backing of the United States of America. It’s as if the whole of the United States stand behind that dollar bill, vouching for its worth. That dollar bill belongs to the United States of America, so when Uncle Sam decides that it is time for me to give some of it back to him, I must do so. That dollar is not really mine, so, whether I like it or not, I must give to the United States what belongs to the United States. In other words, I must pay my taxes.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He began with, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” then He added, “and to God what is God’s.”
What does this mean to me?
The coin Jesus inquired about belonged to Rome because it bore the image of Caesar. The dollar bill in my wallet belongs to the United States government because it bears the image of George Washington. What is it then that belongs to God because it bears the image of God?
According to Genesis 1:27, we bear the image of God because we were created “in the image of God.”
In New Testament times, to mark something as belonging to a person, that person would create a seal that would represent him or her. That image or representation would be engraved into stone or metal or some other hard substance. This would then be pressed down upon a soft substance, leaving behind the impression that represents the maker and owner of the seal. Ephesians 1:13 speaks of God doing this in the soul of a Christian. By the work of the Holy Spirit, the likeness of Christ (or the character) of Christ is pressed down upon our soul, leaving His likeness (His character) in us.
So what does it mean we are to give to my country (or to any country in which a follower of Christ lives)?
We are called to do our best to give to our country the character of Christ, for that is what this nation most desperately needs.
I cannot get by with giving merely my taxes. I am called to give that which bears the character of Christ. I am to give to my nation the compassion of Christ toward those who are hurting, who are in need, who are the least among us. I am to give to my country and to my community the integrity of Christ, upholding what is just and right, striving for what is good.
Galatians 5:22-23 describes the character of Christ (or the fruit of the Spirit) as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Continually I should be asking myself: How can I give these qualities to my country?