Tuesday - June 2
The trap set by the Pharisees in today’s Gospel seems like an impossible one to escape. If Jesus responds that the tax should be paid to Caesar, the people, resentful of the Romans’ rule over them, will quickly turn on Jesus. If Jesus responds that the tax should not be paid to Caesar, the Romans will suspect Jesus of being a political revolutionary and he would likely have been taken into custody then and there.
The answer given by Jesus is often interpreted as an exhortation for Christians to be good citizens of the government under which they are living – pay lawful and fair taxes, vote in elections, contribute to the good of society, etc. No one says that Christians should not be good citizens; but I think Jesus’ reply in the Gospel contains something more profound.
“Give to God what belongs to God.” What in this world, what in our life, does NOT belong to God? In exposing the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ hypocrisy, Jesus is reminding his hearers that their first allegiance in all things is to God; for, after all, God is the true ruler and master of the world. God is the creator of the world, time, and space – our first identification in life is as his creatures, his beloved sons and daughters. That identification means that the God’s priorities, God’s values, and God’s laws deserve our first allegiance and obedience. Hopefully, the values and priorities of both religion and politics are in harmony with each other; but we know from history that sometimes they are not. In these latter circumstances, our allegiance is first to what claims God has on us. From the earliest days of Christianity, there have at times been tensions between religion and politics, the persecutions in the first four centuries of the Church against Christians (and Jews) are proof of that.
There will many times be “gray areas” when Christians will be forced to choose between religion and politics. When caught between a rock and a hard place in such “gray” times and areas, we as followers of Christ must resolve to choose the values and ways of God over whatever secular or earthly realities want to impose upon us.