Notice During the Covid-19 Outbreak
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October 17, 2020
A Reflection from the Christian Traditions
Matthew 22: 15-21
Matthew 22: 15-21
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
Jesus’ confrontation with religious and political leaders took on more and more intensity as he drew nearer to the consequences of his words and actions. The powers of the State will soon execute him to deter the justice for which he lived his life. It is not unknown that powerful and greedy people will slaughter the innocent to preserve their status and wealth. When Jesus spoke, he had the courage to say what needed to be said even if no one was listening. The Bible in general teaches the goodness of justice will prevail when all is said and done.
Jesus “dialogued” with those who were threatened by his teachings. On one occasion, religious and political opponents found common cause in pursuing the demise of Jesus. They plotted a trap so Jesus could be formally charged with sedition. It is more than interesting to hear the charge of treason leveled against someone who calls out for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised. The powers to be clearly understood the threat Jesus posed to their power, wealth, and control.
With slick and polite language, representatives from government and religion confronted Jesus on the crucial matter of taxation. There is no attempt to engage in dialogue. They were trying to trap Jesus so they could use his own words (and actions) against him. Motivated by entrapment, they sought no justice for the oppressed and marginalized. The deadly conspiracy of religious self-righteousness and political expediency married at the altar of deceit to destroy the voice of the poor (see Matthew 22: 15-16).
They posed the question in a rather direct way, “Is it lawful to pay tribute (taxes) to Caesar?” It is fascinating when a government claims it is motivated by religious values as it violates every code of human decency. Jesus did nothing to save his own neck. Calling his investigators “hypocrites,” he confronted them to their face. Recall the taxes often benefited the building desires of Herod and Rome at the expense of the poor. After examining a coin with Caesar’s image and inscription on it, Jesus declared what belongs to Caesar should be given back to Caesar but what is God’s should be given back to God (Matthew 22: 20-21). His would-be enemies were struck with amazement at so bold a teaching.
The time has come to stop interpreting this teaching of Jesus as supporting the separation of Church and State. What belongs to God is love and justice, care and dignity, for the hurting among us. The time has come for the State to stop using religion so it can hurt people, deny their rights, and dehumanize their existence. What ultimately belongs to Caesar is the privilege of caring for God’s people by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and caring for the sick. No State is exempt from doing what is right for all its people. No religion can be disinterested in the issues affecting people by claiming such concerns are merely political. The People of God, no matter who they are, must stand together for what is right, just, good, and true. Nothing belongs to Caesar since Caesar and everyone else belongs to God.
Blessings to you, Holy Community, who render to God your heart dedicated to the loving caring service of all.