22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Epistle: Philippians 1. 6-11; Gospel: St. Matthew 22. 15-21
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
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.
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 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, than 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)
'When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which
oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do
what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate
for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens
against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law
and the Law of the Gospel.' (Gaudium et spes, 74) (CCC 2242)
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 look forward to meeting you here again next week as, together, we
"meet Christ in the liturgy",
Used with the permission of Fr. Cusick from his website.