God or Caesar – Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel continues Matthew’s accounts that we have been hearing on recent Sundays of Ordinary Time. The Pharisees persist in their efforts to trap Jesus because of his words and deeds. We are told that Jesus was aware of their malice, asking them why they were testing him.
The way the authorities try to trap Jesus on this occasion is with their savvy compliment to him, suggesting how clever he is and that he teaches the way of God in accordance with truth. The devil certainly uses charm and compliments at times.
So, does Jesus side with one side or the other – God or Caesar? He could lose. Definitely a tricky situation for him!
Scholars suggest that it is the verse about Jesus showing deference to no one and not regarding people with partiality that lies behind the Church’s famous preferential option for the poor, which is a component of our Catholic social teaching.
An alternative translation of the verse suggests that Jesus doesn’t regard the position of a person. This is in line with the biblical idea of justice. We see the attitude often in Jesus’ interactions with people.
Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Jesus’ famous reply is fundamentally suggesting that God’s claim is greater than the state’s. He does not accept the state’s claim to be divine.
But he is basically suggesting that we are all citizens of two realms – the temporal and the spiritual. We have duties and obligations in both arenas. I have to live in a healthy relationship with both. It’s perfectly okay – correct, as a matter of fact, to be loyal to both God and Caesar.
Most of us have that challenge, even in very simple ways, of being true to our faith and living in peace with our elected leaders (perhaps especially when we don’t have confidence in our elected officials).
Generally speaking the temporal and spiritual loyalties don’t conflict with one another. There are definitely times when we have an obligation to speak up when we see something happening because of a government decision that goes against Judeo-Christian values, whether it is the protection of human life or neglect of the vulnerable or issues around the care of the earth.
How to speak up? It might take the form of a letter to an authority or signing a petition or joining a peaceful demonstration.
But there are times when the relationship between the state and God can get particularly tricky. It probably affects faithful politicians much more than most of us. We have seen that trickiness many times in the history of the world, especially at times when leaders claim to be appointed by God.
Thankfully that is not an issue in Canada. I think that our politicians know that they are at the whim of the voters, not God and the heavenly court.
Loyalty is an important issue. Who am I most loyal to, God or the Prime Minister? Can I be loyal to both? These are good questions for us to ponder.