29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The Pharisees, full of malice, were trying to “entrap Jesus in speech.” They concocted a question that flattered him, saying, “You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth,” but which also put him in a position to be in big trouble if he challenged the Roman laws. Jesus, of course, escaped the trap with his brilliant reply. We can appreciate the wisdom of his response, but more importantly, we can appreciate what it means for us.
To repay to Caesar, in this case, meant to give appropriate allegiance to the secular authorities. We too are under such authority, and although Uncle Sam is different than Caesar in countless ways, the fact remains that as constituents of this country who enjoy its many benefits, we are also called to extend a certain kind of tribute to our government. Taxes, yes, but more than that too. The loyalty and patriotism that offers our gifts in service to the good of our nation is also a tribute we Christians should make in good faith. Only when a law of our land contradicts the moral principles of God do we have to follow our primary allegiance instead, namely, our allegiance to Christ. Unfortunately, in our day we live under certain national laws that do conflict with the truth about human dignity, and thus a tension exists for us. But the course is clear. We must repay “to God what belongs to God” by defending the truth even when it may be unpopular. This kind of courage is what built the Church in those early centuries of persecution when practicing our faith was against the law. Heaven forbid this should ever happen to us. But if it does, we know what must be done.