In All Things: Through faith a sound government and society is formed
So here's the scenario this week. The Pharisees (Mt 22:15-21) are once again skulking about in the shadows, trying to figure out a way to trap Jesus through his own words. (You'd think they'd have learned by now!)
So, with that smarmy attitude we've come to expect, they start out with some disingenuous flattery, hoping to catch Jesus off guard. "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth."
They proceed to ask, in his opinion, whether or not it's lawful to pay Caesar (Rome) the census tax or not?
If Jesus answered that the tax should be paid, it would look as if he was betraying his people, who detested the Romans and their occupation of Jerusalem. He would be siding with the enemy.
On the other hand, if Jesus stated no, they should not pay the tax, the Romans could and would very well consider it an act of sedition.
What to do? Do the Pharisees have Jesus trapped between a rock and a hard place this time? Can't you just see the sly smirks?
But yet once again, Jesus is on to them. "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?"
Holding out his hand, Jesus asks to see a Roman coin and asks whose image it bears.
Caesar's, of course.
Jesus replies: "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
I admit, sometimes this passage can be perplexing in that it seems Jesus is endorsing a clear separation of Church and state. Are we to believe there should be a clear distinction between the secular and the spiritual? That each is absolute within its own sphere of influence?
During a visit to the U.S. in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI noted, with praise, the provision in the U.S. Constitution that provided for a separation of Church and state, allowing all believers the right to worship according to their own beliefs while embracing them as members of a society that gives all a right to have their voices heard.
Those are two major tenants this country was founded upon: 1) a government that would not dictate what one should believe and allows worship according to the dictates of one's own conscience and 2) a government that was guided by the voices of its people.
Think about it; I'm not hearing the pope interpreting our constitution as stating that church and state run on parallel tracks but rather, through faith, whatever that faith might be, we form a healthy and sound society based on the common good.
Jesus could be implying that we have an obligation to be fully engaged in the public arena. If so, we need to approach our societal lives with an awareness that ultimately, everything belongs to God. All our actions (or inaction), whether in the spiritual or secular realms, fall under God's watchful eye and it's very likely God is taking note of how we embrace our responsibility as both Christian and citizcn.
As election time draws near, I think this week's Gospel bear some reflection. As citizens of this country, we have a right, as well as a responsibility, to actively participate in our political system. Sadly, too few vote and those who do most often approach it with profound indifference. What are our beliefs and how do they form our political decisions?
Eighteenth century Irish statesman Edmund Burke is quoted as saying, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Let's not be among those who sit and do nothing. November 4 is a couple of weeks away. There's still time to make informed decisions before exercising our right to have our voice heard through our votes.