They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, Caesar’s men demand taxes from us.
He said to them, Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine. (100)
As spiritual aspirants we owe a great debt to three sources.
The first is to all those persons and things in the world which have fostered and benefitted our material life. “Caesar” includes all who have benefitted us, beginning with our parents and family, and all society and especially our friends. They are listed first because material awareness is the first center of the human being’s life. To “Caesar” we owe respect, cooperation and even on occasion personal sacrifice. Part of our duty is to remember this at all times.
The second debt is to God, the awareness of whom arises as we develop and evolve. To God we owe reverence, worship and obedience to divine law. This takes precedence over the first debt, and if there is ever a conflict between the two it should be resolved by putting God first and acting accordingly.
The third is to our spiritual teachers, to whom we owe much the same that we owe God, though to a lesser degree. This, debt, too, must always be secondary to the debt to God. I point this out because there is no place in spiritual life for the fanatical and slavish attitudes often projected toward spiritual authorities, including unquestioning acceptance and obedience. To spiritual teachers and their teachings we owe respect, attention, intelligent application and devotion–but only to a degree that is beneficial to us and sensible. Again, fanaticism and slavery do not enter into our debt to God, much less to the godly.
We could sum it all up by saying that our debt to others and society is to live as wisely, worthily and helpfully as possible. Our debt to God is to live as spiritually devoted as possible, and that includes observance of authentic spiritual disciplines and practices which bring us closer to the Divine. Our debt to spiritual teachers is to act in conformity with their wisdom and ourselves become wise and help others in turn. It is all very simple, but requires a lifetime to repay all three debts.
Read the next article in the Gospel of Thomas for Yogis: Father and Mother