FAITH AND POLITICS: CAESAR'S FACE OR YOUR FACE? Prayer Reflection for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

"Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" is a popular mantra used by all and sundry. In secret sects or cults, it is quoted to remind members of their commitment to do evil as prerequisite for membership in the confraternity. In politics it is quoted to justify shady deals and portrays politics as a 'dirty game'. It is sometimes quoted in religious matters to justify syncretism and indifference to faith and belief in God. For you, I ask: How do you use these words? Do these words by Jesus have the same meaning as portrayed above? If you are confused, read slowly ...

Matthew 22:15-21
The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
1. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar 
Jesus used this quote to correct the wrong impressions in the minds of the Jews who thought paying taxes to the Roman government was a form of idolatry. Why do they think so? In those days, roman emperors deify themselves; and image on an object showed ownership, thus they print their image on money used for daily transactions. For this reason the Jews objected paying taxes with Roman money, calling it idolatry. But Jesus shows them the flaws in their thoughts. He tells them that Caesar's right to demand taxes is backed up by his image printed on it; and the image is not a demand for worship but demonstration of ownership. 
2. Give to God what belongs to God
With these words Jesus reminds us of our identity as children of God. Since image on something signifies ownership, then we should realise that as beings "created in the image and likeness of God" (Gen. 1:27), we belong to God. Jesus takes us to this profound understanding of civil responsibility to make us realise that paying tax is not just a right exercised by the government, but our duty and responsibility for it is a sign that we are responding to the Divine Mandate calling us to be fruitful, hardworking, and improve the earth (Gen. 1:28). Hence tax is for those who work. Since God blesses the work of our hands (Ps. 128:2), but not our laziness; making it fruitful; evading tax therefore would amount to sin. When we pay tax we do not 'worship' the government that enforces it but truly live out and offer our lives as offerings back to God the source and giver of life, who wills that we live our lives fruitfully in service to Him and all creation.

3. But should these be taken in isolation: our duties to the government or state and our duties to God or the church? Certainly No! They must go together. In fact our duties to God should influence our entire being. But sadly like the pharisees who had bad intentions against Jesus, we quote this saying whenever we want to justify some evil thoughts or actions. 
4. Our loyalty to the state or government is willed by God for through them God realises His plans in our lives as He did to the Israelites using a pagan King Cyrus to grant them freedom from exile. The Bible tell us in Isaiah 45:1;4-6:
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyruswhom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: ‘It is for the sake of my servant Jacob, of Israel my chosen one, that I have called you by your name, conferring a title though you do not know me.

5. Don't forget whose image you bear. That image should reflect in your daily activities- both social and spiritual. Your actions will determine "the face" you give to things in the world. If politics is dirty, it is because you have chosen to be dirty. 
Don't be like the Jews who read religious meanings into what is not, and when expected to be religious they don't. Balance your social life with a good relationship with God. Don't be like the pharisees who because of their knowledge of the law relegate everyone else and close their minds to learning. Don't be like them who always plot to bring others down. 
The man you despise today could be your saviour tomorrow. Never underrate anyone, God can use anyone (even your enemy) to bless you. That was what happened to Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery not knowing they were pushing him to his throne! (Gen.37:12-36).

TASK: Pray psalm 1 now and pay attention to the words. May God never allow you to fall into traps of the wicked in Jesus name. Amen.

© Fr. SimOne Madu, OSJ

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