My Dear Parishioners,
Today’s Gospel recounts the famous encounter of Jesus with two groups of opponents who try to entrap him in his speech. In our Lord’s masterful maneuver around their strategy, he gives us, even today, guidance in our
own struggles between politics and religion; between Church and State. We learned it in the words of the older translation as “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
In the time of Jesus, his Jewish countrymen were under Roman occupation in a remote province of the Roman Empire. The only money in circulation was Roman currency with the image of the emperor upon it, and an inscription that read “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.” The Pharisees, who wanted to entrap Jesus, resented paying taxes to a pagan government which regarded its emperor as a god. The Herodians were probably the champions of the family of Herod, who wanted to abolish Roman direct rule and return to home rule under their own leadership.
If Jesus affirms that taxes should be paid, he loses the esteem of the religious nationalists. If he denies that the
taxes should be paid, he can be arrested as a political revolutionary. What our Lord did was to move the debate
to another level: he challenged his opponents to be as observant in paying their dues to God as they are in
paying their dues to the emperor. In this, his opponents are revealed as hypocritical and not really religious,
and Jesus gains honor for having recognized their hypocrisy and having eluded their trap.
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” does not make earthly governments the equal of the heavenly kingdom. Jesus taught very plainly in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus died at the hands of Caesar’s representative, Pontius Pilate, after telling him that he would have no power over Jesus if it had not been given to him from above (John 19:11).
Very little of what we “repay to Caesar” is purely political. John F. Kennedy saw a clear connection between
political and moral issues, especially at the time of the integration of American public schools and universities.
He had trouble thinking only in political terms without considering the moral dimensions of each situation.
Legal issues may seem simply black or white, war or peace, male or female; but at the root, all are moral
The priority belongs to the kingdom of God, not to the government of any country. In saying that, we are not
downplaying national loyalty, rather, as Daniel Webster, a famous American, said in 1820, “Whatever makes
men good Christians makes them good citizens.”So, the words, “For God and Country” have the priorities
correct. The two halves of Jesus’ statement complement each other, but “repay to God” comes first because
“repay to Caesar” flows from it.
God Bless,
Msgr. Maresca