To God What Is God’s
St. Justin, a layman who died a martyr around the year 165, was from Greek parents in Palestine, and was a philosopher by profession. His search for truth brought him into Christianity; and after his conversion he staunchly defended the Faith in speech, in writings and finally in blood.
During a period of persecution, Justin, who had come to Rome, was arrested as a Christian along with several other believers. The prefect, Rusticus, after some initial questions, said to the Christians: “Let us come to the point … Agree together to offer sacrifice to the gods.” Justin the philosopher replied with dignity, “No one of sound mind turns from piety to impiety.”
Rusticus warned: “If you do not obey, you will be punished without mercy.” Justin said, “We are confident that if we suffer the penalty for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved…” His companions concurred: “Do what you will. We are Christians, and we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”
So Rusticus pronounced judgment: “Those who have refused to offer sacrifice and yield to the emperor’s edict are to be led away to be scourged and beheaded in accordance with the laws.” Justin and his companions not only accepted the sentence, they thanked God for it
“… Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.” (Matthew, 22:21. Gospel of the day)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q341: The Gospel today (Mt 22:15-21) talks about taxes and Caesar and God. Is this the first reference to separation of Church and State by Jesus?
This gospel segment has nothing to do with separation of Church and State, a concept unheard of in that ancient culture. Instead, we can zero in on two of several insights: what is it that one “renders” to Church or State, and how does authority fit into this picture.
It would be romantic (?) to suggest that this gospel appears almost exactly at the mid-point of “tax time,” six months almost to the day when our taxes are due. But this would be anachronistic, reading into the text something that would baffle the readers in Jesus’ time. Instead, we have to look to Jesus’ words to understand what is going on here.
He says “render to Caesar” — certainly that means that if the Roman government levies a poll tax (which was the initial cause of political dissent and unrest), then citizens must pay it. The Zealots would disagree, with their nationalistic fervor, and the Pharisees would agree since they saw no problem obeying the Mosaic Law under any government. But Jesus is not “choosing sides.” He is pointing to the principle involved: taxes are Caesar’s, so pay them; but your heart and your soul are Yahweh’s; give those to God!
Closely allied with that principle is the concept of “proper authority.” All authority is from God, and when it serves the common good and is exercised within moral limits known from natural law, then it is to be respected. But when that authority “legalizes” immorality (i.e., abortion, euthanasia, cloning, etc.) then respect and adherence is no longer required to that limited degree.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The First Reading (Is 45:1,4-6) is a reminder to us that God can use even pagan nations and leaders to fulfill his will – all for the sake of his chosen people – because even the authority of pagan leaders comes from God (CCC #1899). If that authority serves the common good of the people, then the choice of the type of political regime is left up to the citizenry (CCC #1901). When the demands of an authority violate the upright conscience of the people, the refusal of obedience is acceptable (CCC #2242).
Give Unto Caesar
In today’s readings Jesus’ enemies try to impale him on the horns of a dilemma. Behind their question we can see two very different ways of looking at life. One sees a total subordination of spiritual and religious concerns to the “practical” demands of secular and political considerations. The other sees secular matters of no concern or value to someone who recognizes the demands of the spiritual and the sacred. Jesus refuses to fall into their trap by not choosing either. Instead he tells us that each makes legitimate demands, but he does not say they re totally separate. As Isaiah reminds us, even a pagan king can serve as the instrument of God’s will. So it is with u s. We have secular or worldly responsibilities as citizens, family members, home owners, employees or employers. But we also have obligations to God; these must be given the priority. But most of the time we do not have to choose. Most of the time as we fulfill our worldly responsibilities w can act as God’s agent, doing well the duties we owe to the state in the life to which God has called us.
Lord, you have called me to a particular place in life. Guide me and strengthen me in this time, this place in this occupation, with these people to act as the instrument of your will.