Church and State. God and Caesar.
“Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” Jesus is the focus of a hatred so great in today’s Gospel, that the Pharisees, nationalists, and Herodians, sympathizers with Rome, have put aside their mutual antipathy and joined in an effort to entrap him and arouse the people against him.0
They think they’ve found the perfect ruse. Get Jesus to oppose taxes and earn the anger of the Romans and their minions. Get him to support taxes and arouse the ire of the nationalists. The object: eliminate this troublemaker from their midst.
As he does so often in the Scriptures, our Lord leaves his opponents and attackers stunned by his responses. He masterfully recognizes their “bad faith”, while teaching, as only God can, the simple truth that they, as desperately as all mankind, need to hear.
At first glance, one might think that Christ displays his wisdom only in throwing a plum to both sides in the national dispute. The Romans want their taxes, while the Jews want their religion and recognition of the kingship of God. Above and beyond this, our Lord speaks to them, and to men of every age, who become ensnared in competing loyalties and forget that kingship belongs to God omnipotent.
Men rule at God’s good pleasure. “You would have no power…unless it had been given you from above.” (Jn 19:11) Jesus Christ is universal king; men are blessed to share in his authority.
We have in our own day an abundance of conflicts between Church and state. Is a matter political or religious? If it’s deemed political, many believe, the Church should have nothing to say. Attempts to muzzle God go back to the beginning of salvation history. The prophets were put to death for speaking God’s truth long before the Pharisees and Herodians tried to entrap and silence Christ.
The abortion issue, many say, is a political issue, and therefore a matter for Caesar alone. Men of God, it is said, should be silent. Human life, in fact, is a moral issue, and when the laws of men are immoral, attacking the laws of God and the sacredness of human life, then Godly men should shout from every rooftop, priests should preach from every pulpit, every believing man and woman should speak out and protest.
“Render…to God the things that are God’s.” All human life is sacred, from the hands of the creator. “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful, wonderful are thy works!” (Psalm 139) When Caesar’s laws are an abomination before God, then it is Caesar who must change.
Whether opposing the culture of death or any tyranny of the political order, the Christian gives first allegiance to the laws of God. “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.
Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Mt 22:21) ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)
If a child was trapped under a car, an upright man would plow through any opposition to save the life of that child. Any infant lying helpless under the bloody scalpel of a doctor-turned-murderer deserves no less. Pray for those engaged in peaceful, prayerful and non-violent protest against abortion.
Pray also for those who heroically risk imprisonment, beatings and torture to meet and counsel mothers and fathers on sidewalks everywhere to turn their hearts away from the temptation to murder their children
I am a citizen in two kingdoms, the kingdom of earthly power, my government, and the kingdom of God, my church. I owe each everything I have. It all is a gift of God and belongs to Him anyway.