God and Caesar
Today’s scripture readings invite us to reflect on the history of salvation as it affects religion and civil government. It illustrates an important relationship on how we practice our faith life within the social and political structure of any society. It has always been a contentious relationship.
In the first reading, Israel experienced exceptional favor from a Persian king Cyrus who ordered the return of the Jews to their homeland and rebuilding of Jerusalem. For the Jews, this pagan king became a symbol of God’s anointed and special envoy. This was a huge and serious departure from their theological world view. It was beyond their imagination that the God of Israel can act or choose a pagan to do his bids. He fulfilled the new vision and hope that Prophet Isaiah described.
In our country, we often speak about separation between church and state. This has remained a source of tension in our civic discuss. Can the two coexist? There are folks who uphold absolute separation and those who recognize the value of religion as part of the state. While there are those who believe that the idea of separation has gone far beyond what the nation’s founders envisioned. The magnanimous action of King Cyrus demonstrates that state and religion can form a symbiotic relationship for the common good. He granted freedom and made resource for the rebuilding of a slave nation, therefore gaining their trust, respect and cooperation.
Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees who were searching for ways to trap him and discredit him. His opponents caused a dilemma regarding the Roman tax. If he agrees to paying the tax, he offends the religious Pharisees and if he refuses to pay tax, he incurs the rath of the Romans and be considered an insurrectionist like a zealot fighting the Caesar. Jesus understood clearly their hypocrisy and malice gave them a smart, elusive and carefully worded answer. “Repay Caesar”. He outwitted them in their plot; He showed them the mastery of wisdom.
He entrapped his opponent when he demanded they produce the coin in question. In his logic, Jesus argued if you benefit from Caesar’s service then you are obliged to pay taxes for the services he provides. Jesus did not want to tangle himself with the political or religious theory that has nothing to do with his mission. The paying of tax has nothing to do with the reign of God, his sole interest. It made us see how we can collaborate with civil authorities for the common good. As citizens, we have a role to play in the government and social and political life of our society. Christians are called to be leaven on the society. Our mission is to animate life and faith in the society so that kingdom of God will always reign in our society.
Nobody likes paying taxes. However, for the good of the society there are public services that government must address, including: education, health, food, provision for unemployment, children, elderly and safety against lawless men. Therefore, some form of tax is expected for the public good. A Christian has a duty to the State in return for the privileges which the State government provides to him. Also, he is a citizen of heaven and bound to respect matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God.
Jesus goes further by demanding that they give to God what is God’s. If the coin bears Caesar’s image, whose image do we bear? Did God not make us in his own image and likeness? Do we not belong to him? Therefore, if we belong to him, we must be subject to him. Our response to God must be total, not in any way divided. For God is greater and beyond comparison.
Grace and peace to you.
Fr. Vitalis Anyanike, Pastor