God or Caesar? Everything belongs to God!
Our Gospel passage today ends with the words: ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
This famous statement has been interpreted in so many ways. As a way of driving religious authorities from “politics”, this is often cited. Those who still hand on traditional practices and rituals, wanting to justify their acts often cite, etc. Rulers use this to keep church authority subservient to that of the nation. Some pertinent questions arise: Must we obey all the laws of our nation? When there are laws that transgress God’s Law or our Christian Values, are we obliged to obey them? In effect, what belongs to God?
Things become more complicated when we read from some writings of Saint Paul that “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-4). This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us.
Who created the government? It is God! God created government to establish order, punish evil, and promote justice (Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Romans 12:8). This implies that we must obey the Government, the rules and laws, paying of taxes etc. if not, then we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us.
At the same time we must give to God what belongs to him. And what belongs to God? Our consciences – that inner core of our being. All of the world, the universe, everything is God’s, and we can’t separate our lives into a secular sphere and a religious sphere. It has to be all one. God created everything! God created Caesar!
A question then goes: is there a time when we should intentionally disobey the laws of the land? The answer may be found in Acts 5:27-29, “Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this Name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’ Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’”
This solves the puzzle! As soon as the law of the land contradicts God’s command, we are to disobey the law of the land and obey God’s law. From this, it is clear that as long as the law of the land does not contradict the law of God, we are bound to obey the law of the land. Unjust law is not law. We are to take care of this world given to us by God, transforming it to become the Reign of God where there would be a fullness of justice, love, peace and joy, that’s constitutive of the Gospel.
Everything belongs to God. So we must transform this world, do action for justice, participate in the world’s transformation until it becomes the Reign of God. Thomas Gumbleton’s words say it all! Everything belongs to God, even Caesar’s coins.
Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, cmf
Please pray for me