Relationship between Church and State has always; and continue to be a matter of great concern. Put in simple terms, humans are by nature, both religious and political beings – two sides of the same coin. However, we are aware when political figures have used or use the Church or religion in general for their own career advantage. Such examples will be like pulling a few and sometimes isolated religious themes from here and there that ‘seem to support’ their manifestos to appeal to the religious quarters of their citizens while actually not believing in any of it. Sadly too, there are times when religious figures have compromised their faith to try and appease policy makers. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear: that should never be the case. Church and State ought to complement each other in a way that enhances the joy and peace of the people of God.
Having spoken to the religious leaders of Israel in parables over the last three weeks; namely, in the parable of the two sons, in the parable of the evil tenants and in the parable of the royal wedding, today Jesus pulls no punches and directly calls these leaders hypocrites! A people who never see each other face to face (Pharisees & Herodians) are apparently ‘united’ in a plot to destroy the Son of God. Little do they know, that Jesus is forever ahead of them as He is the Lord of all. Humanly rooted in His Jewish family and culture, Jesus understands the significance of the trap that is laid before Him and so He turns it over to them. We would for instance ask ourselves, why did Jesus not pull a coin from His own pocket when wanting to make a point about the image on it? It is because He did not have it – but they readily had it on them and so they handed one over to him.
The first of the Ten Commandments is this: I am the Lord Your God, you shall not have any other gods before me (Exodus 20). From the start, religious leaders of Israel have got it wrong because of the importance they place on money and economy as a whole. By carrying coins that bore the image of the emperor, the religious leaders of Israel were in a way condoning a form of idolatry. This in part, answers the question why Jesus will not be carrying any of these coins with Him. We will remember, when he calls the twelve and then the seventy-two and sent them out in pairs, He asked them to carry no haversack and no coins. That was meant to say: rely on the power of God and the Holy Spirit in your ministry. We must ask ourselves here: have we idolized our money, careers and talents; thus, forgetting the need for God in our lives?
Today’s gospel reading gets abused or rather misused by different people/groups; both in political and religious circles. For those in politics, they may use this gospel and the words of Jesus in wanting to undermine Church’s contribution to political atmosphere saying: Church should not meddle in political discourses. On the other hand, religious leaders and Christ’s faithful may sometimes use this text to relieve themselves of uncomfortable political responsibility. As established at the start of this reflection, men and women are by nature both religious and political beings. We cannot run away from our religious and political responsibilities. We have to consciously and meaningfully contribute to both in making for a just and peaceful world.
I have highlighted in some of my past reflections, the significance of the Lord’s Prayer. In it, we pray as we shall do at this Mass: Our Father in heaven, may your name be held holy. May your kingdom come and may your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. As a Christian people, we are called to already built and live in the kingdom of God here and now as we place our hope in His heaven, our heaven, which He will eventually calls us to; to be eternally united with Him. To build heaven on earth, we need each other’s contribution; in politics, in religion, business, science and all those other areas of life that enhance mutual love and peace for all. Each one has got to have a voice that is listened to and appreciated even if not adopted in some cases.
Remaining faithful to Jesus and His gospel, we go home today knowing that it is a noble thing to pay our fair share of taxes. Only then can we demand that our political leaders and public officers assist us in establishing a kingdom of God here and now; where the sick, elderly and the lonely are taken good care of. A kingdom of God on earth where victims of crime and injustice find true justice and assured of security and peace. When we pay our fair share of taxes we can and should expect the freedoms that our constitution affords us; freedom of speech, freedom of practicing our religion without having to be scoffed at and labelled as old-school.
The one thing we cannot overlook in reading this gospel is the fact that all we are and have has come from God. With that, Jesus could not have been more categorical is saying: …give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God. The question we must now ask ourselves is this: Who is it that we are and what is it that we have that has not been sourced from God? Our very being, our health, our talent, our faith, our wealth, our families and all else we have is given us by God. Not because we merit it. Because He loves us unconditionally. This week, we go and be grateful for every single thing in our life that we have claimed as our and return thank to the God of heaven and earth who has been so gracious to bless us.
Fr Cyprian Shikokoti, Parish Priest