Paying Taxes to the Emperor
In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. The question they ask Jesus is a trap. If He answers it is right to pay the tax, He will incur the anger of the people; and if He answers it is not right, He will be reported to the Romans as a rebel. There seems to be no way out of the dilemma. Before answering, Jesus asks a coin from them, with Caesar’s image stamps on it, and of course, possessing a Roman coin they are already showing themselves to be collaborators with the Romans. But we hear Jesus says: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” (v. 17). Yesterday, we talked about what belongs to God. This is as if Jesus is saying, ‘you are made in God’s image. And this means our whole being. You have his image engraved on you, just as this coin has Caesar’s image engraved on it. You don’t owe your souls to Caesar.’ Not only this, we also belongs to Him because He redeems us by dying on the cross for our sins (1Cor 6:19-20).
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” These words of Jesus also express the existence of two kinds of activity: the eternal and the temporal. Of course we know that everything belongs to God. But these words show that there are areas in the temporal sphere, like politics in which, to a certain degree, is autonomous because God has wanted it to be so. But politics remains subordinate to God’s rule. Jesus wants His disciples that they must give their first loyalty to God on all issues, that is, referring to the First Commandment and judge all issues from the vantage point of God’s will regarding humans and the world. In other words, this saying of Jesus sets definite moral bounds to politics. That is, the Church enters into this temporal order when it comes to faith and morals and some issues that have a relevance to divine truth and God’s saving plan.
Especially that today some people are criticizing the Church for ‘meddling,’ as they say, in politics and social issues. They are saying that the Church should only focus on what is spiritual, like: celebrating the sacraments, converting sinners and others. By sinners, they mean those who commit only private sins, if there is such a thing, like drunkenness, fornication, adultery, gambling, gluttony and others. But they forget that there are also social sins, like: human exploitation, human trafficking, oppression of entire classes of society, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, injustice, corruption, political immorality and others. Faith is obliged to judge as evil and to condemn political crimes of this kind. Against these sins, bishops and other Christian leaders and of course, all of us who are interested in creating a moral world have the obligation and the right to judge the moral dimension of these acts. Even prophets of old, like Jeremiah, strongly condemn the pious Jews of their day who frequented the Temple regularly while neglecting social justice (Jer. 7:1-7). In this sense, all the prophets ‘meddled’ in politics and social issues. Jesus does exactly the same thing in His own preaching. And today the Church is continuing this tradition.
We have to give back to God what He has given to us, which is ourselves and He will replace it with Himself; and we will be the persons that He created us to be. In concrete terms, God must come first before everything else.
OPTION 01, 02, 03,