For thousands of years there have been difficulties in resolving the problem of the relationship between church and state, the government of the people and the government of God. People have been trying to reconcile them; either work them together, make them one, separate them from each other, but have never come up with a successful solution.
In the Gospel reading today, some Pharisees and Herodians, the Jewish religious leaders, are asking Jesus whether taxes should be paid to the Roman government. They presented Jesus with a trick question that no matter how he answers, he is in trouble. The question is whether taxes should be paid to the Roman government. If Jesus said “NO,” he could be arrested as a subversive and revolutionary. If he said “YES,” he would be in trouble with the patriotic Jews who hated Roman dominance. His answer caused them to marvel, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Obviously, according to Jesus, paying tax to the government is a responsibility of every citizen. And returning to God what belongs to God is an obligation requires of every human being.
The answer to the question whether or not to pay taxes was in the image of a Roman coin. The image of Caesar on the coin represents the authority of a civil government. Every citizen belongs to a country. Each country has to provide basic security, liberty and services to its citizens. Each citizen has rights and obligations to his or her own country. Security, liberty, for example, is basic human rights. To provide us security and protection, our government needs to have military and police forces, Fire department and Home Land Security department etc. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” means that paying taxes to the civil government is an obligation of every citizen. It is our responsibility to provide funds to the government to run programs for our own protection, security and common social services. U. S. citizens are familiar with April 15th tax day. This is the annual final day to pay our income taxes. Clearly Jesus is not teaching us to avoid paying taxes. He is not teaching us to find loopholes in the taxing system. He commands, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” There is no negotiation here. Paying taxes, giving services to the country, and obeying the civil laws are signs of good citizenship. And Jesus approves these practices. We however, have often discussed our obligation to the nation and ignore equal or even more important obligations to God.
It is important that we pay attention to Jesus’ remark on the second part of his answer, “Render to God the things that are God’s.” Where can we find the image of God? The book of Genesis explains, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Since you and I are made in the image of God. God’s image is engraved in our human faces. Therefore, it is right, appropriate and just that we give our life back to God. God’s image can also be seen in nature in terms of order and beauty. God is in charge of our lives and everything else. We thus owe God our lives, and at least a portion of this world’s goods. According to Jesus, we have a dual responsibility to God and to our country. In most cases, the country comes out better than God does. If we give as much to God as we pay taxes to our government, Jesus’ kingdom would be a lot better now. Last Tuesday, after Mass, an old lady handed me an envelop with a $50 check in it. She said, “Father, here is my contribution for the last two weeks. I was not able to get to church because I had to take care of my sick husband.” What is your way of redering to God what belongs to Him?
It is also important to remember the words of Peter in ACTS 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” The government of God always comes first and more superior to the government of people. God is the supreme authority above all authorities. There is an implication in Jesus’ statement that we are to render to Caesar and to God, not to one or another, but to both. There may be a separation of church and state, but there should never been a separation of God and state. Our nation is facing many problems because many people want to separate our nation from God. They don’t want to acknowledge we are “one nation under God.” It is important to remember that God is the Lord of the nations. Through the words in the Canticle of Daniel, the Church calls on all creatures to praise the Lord. Psalm 148 calls every human being and every creature, including all earth’s king and peoples, princes and rulers, young men and maidens, old men together with children to praise the Lord. Our faith teaches us that every human being, every government is subject to God.
It is important to know that The government of the people comes from the people to regulate laws to maintain orders in this world and to promote justice and peace. The government of God regulates moral laws to guide our human hearts and conscience to make decisions that lead us to eternal salvation. Some governments including ours, however, are making decisions that are actually moral decisions. Moral decisions are in the realm of God, not of the state. When government of the people steps outside of its realm to legalize abortion, same sex marriage, introduce contraceptives into our schools, condone various and sundry immoral actions and immoral programs, it is stepping over the realm of God. It is showing disrepect to God and diservice to humanity.
Next week is the “Church’s Mission Sunday.” We are missionaries to our people and to our government. We are also in the election season again. We elect leaders to run our government. It is important that we choose leaders who represent us and our beliefs. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Government leaders represent us; we expect them to reflect the light and the salt of our Christian Faith in their leadership. You and I are missionaries to the people of our nation. We are not going to change the state overnight, but we can change the people, one at a time.