ON THIS TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME the Pharisees are at it again, trying to trap Jesus for an “ahah – gotcha” moment asking Jesus if it is lawful to pay the Census Tax to Caesar or not. The Jews believed that they had only one Lord and Ruler and that was their God. Taxes, or any form of submission, should only be made to him, by offerings made in God’s Temple. Jesus, of course, is perfectly aware of the dangers in giving a straight answer. He accuses them of gross hypocrisy in setting this trap. They have no desire to know the answer. They have their own answers already. Their only intention is to lay a trap for Jesus to hang himself with. Jesus asks them to show him a coin. He asks to know whose image and what is the inscription on it. The head was that of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor of the day. The inscription would have read, “Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus, great high priest”. Caesar claimed not only political sovereignty but also divine attributes. Worship of the emperor was seen as a test of loyalty to the not very religious central government and would soon become a major issue for the early Christians as it was already for the Jews. So Jesus says to those setting a trap for Him: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” No state can claim to itself divine powers of absolute authority, for example Caesar of ancient Rome, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Germany, or today’s Kim Jong Un of North Korea, even some in our own government by their attitudes toward the position they hold. Despite what they may think about themselves as being “highly exalted” each and every human, no matter their “position” in life are subject to the higher demands of truth and justice and the inviolable dignity of the person centered in God. We all are, in some way, citizens of two kingdoms: citizens of the political territory where we belong and citizens in God’s Kingdom. As Jesus says, they both require certain loyalties from us. Think about it. We all depend to a large extent on our civil government. There are many services which only a civil authority can provide, such as the safety and protection of police and fire, armed forces, roads and other infrastructure, welfare services for the unemployed, the handicapped, the elderly, and so forth. It is obvious that if these are services are to continue and even be improved they require the cooperation and support of the community at large. We do this for the most part through paying taxes. Taxes are not just a necessary evil. In a just administration they are our contribution to making the services we take for granted available. In a just tax system, too, we help to spread more evenly the wealth of the community so that each one has access to what they need for a life of human dignity. There are many other ways, too, in which we can give our support to raising the quality of life in the community. All of this can be seen as “giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Unfortunately, and sadly, we do meet people whose only interest is in seeing what they can get out of the community for themselves and their immediate family with no intention of ever giving anything back. But we are also citizens of God’s Kingdom. In recent years there has been conflict between “Caesar” and God and we do sometimes, from the standpoint of the Gospel, have to speak against our government’s actions or non-actions, and contest or in some cases refuse to obey our government. In the United States, both African-American and white people violated the segregation laws operated in many states; in the name of truth, justice and human dignity they had no option. People of faith see problems with particular aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act (-aka- Obamacare) of which certain elements go against not only the moral teachings of the Catholic faith, but also those of other mainstream Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. Sometimes these issues get painted as “liberal” or “conservative” when, in fact, they have to do with our adherence (or not) to the moral teachings of our faith which are connected to the truths of sacred scripture. So we need to realize that when we really love our country and its people, then we may have to stand in strong opposition to the authorities on certain issues. Of course, many authorities will try to present such people as “ultra conservative” traitors and a threat to the stability of the country. But such people, who show they care, often have a far greater love for their country than the so-called “silent majority.” Today’s Gospel makes it very clear that we have two responsibilities: to the government of our country or territory and to God. Where both are in harmony there will be no conflict. Wherever there is immoral or unjust behavior against people’s dignity and rights, then there has to be conflict. Such conflict is not always bad. On the contrary, it is because of creative conflict that our society makes progress. Provided we always act in a positive and creative way, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), then the flawed kingdoms that men build can, in time, become the Kingdom of God. As a famous dissident – and martyr, Saint Thomas More said before his death: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
OF NOTE: This is World Mission Sunday in the Church. This is the largest and most important annual collection for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Every year, all proceeds are disbursed to the Missions; no funds are held in reserve. Please be supportive of this worldwide effort to support the missionary work of the Church throughout the world.
-Fr. Mike Lump