The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Pause. Pray. Reflect.
How often do we test God?
I feel like this is a thing that comes up in my life pretty often, especially when I’m faced with uncertainty. (And when are we not faced with uncertainty?) Over the years, so many of my prayers have been of the “God, if you want me to do X, then send me this sign” variety, even though I know I’m not really supposed to ask for signs. Or, “God, if this doesn’t work out, then that must mean you don’t want me to take this job/go to this school/apply for this thing.” Or the worst: “God, if you really love me, then, you would let such-and-such happen or give me this-and-that or wouldn’t have let XYZ take place, etc.”
It’s so hard to have certainty about God’s unconditional love. So easy to forget. I put my head down and go about my usual daily routines, saying my prayers automatically and without much thought, attending Mass and offering ministry on Sundays as a matter of course; and then the rest of the week, I let my mind and outlook fill up with all the concerns of the world, both important and mundane: my relationship, work stuff, friend stuff, family stuff, grocery lists, shopping, that book I’m reading, the news, that day’s Wordle. And somewhere amidst all of this I don’t just forget – I fail to remember that God is always present. I drift away, inevitably end up in some sort of existential distress or mini-crisis, feel alone, and find myself facing a great big empty feeling and not knowing where to turn for help. And it’s in those moments that I try to test God for proof that He really loves me and is listening.
I guess at this point, God is pretty used to His people doing that. Testing Him, I mean. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. But the funny thing is, you can’t test God to prove how much He loves you. Because God’s love is given freely – it can’t be earned (as much as the perfectionistic, ever-the-people-pleasing-student in me gets stuck on that). It can’t be bought, it can’t be manipulated, it can’t be caught, and it can’t be won. Everyone deserves God’s love, no matter who they are or what they do, and we human beings are not the judges of each other – God is. If we’re not even competent to judge each other, then why on earth do we think we can judge and test God?
The key here is trust, not test. Maybe we will face tests and trials in the course of our lives, but the result will always be that God loves us, regardless of “passes” or “fails.”
So, my prayer today is for trust – that any of us who struggle to hold onto the gift of God’s unconditional love be gifted with the patient trust we need to know that He is always there for us and will never stop loving us.