This week’s gospel is the familiar rendition of attempts to entrap Jesus when He is asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” If Jesus says that the tax should be paid to Caesar, He would be considered guilty of false worship since the Romans believe the emperor to be divine. On the other hand, if Jesus says the tax should not be paid, He would be encouraging disobedience to Roman laws, which would be sedition – conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch. Jesus responds by saying, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” His response to the Herodians and Pharisees suggests the ethic that Christians ought to adopt. It reminds us of the importance of keeping things in their proper perspective. It makes us question ourselves: Do we attach ourselves to worldly things at the expense of the love and honour that we owe to God?
It isn’t easy trying to follow two thousand years of tradition and the increasingly complex needs and concerns of our modern world. More and more people work on Sundays as a consequence of the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society. Attendance at Mass has decreased over the years but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those not attending aren’t living in a good, loving relationship with God and others. These same people may be the ones who check on an elderly neighbour to ensure he/she is okay; may be the ones who drive cancer patients to appointments they would otherwise miss. Some people may think Catholics these days are not following the rules the way they should, as in the past. I sense that many Catholics these days are more aware of living daily the tenets of the Church by sharing, giving time, being examples of what Jesus tried to exemplify. Following the rules does not mean fearing the rules. Obedience is not a weakness. Obedience with humility leads to discipline. By being disciplined, we can learn the morality of moderation, compassion and consideration of others and the happiness of being in harmony with what God wishes for us.
I surmise from what Jesus replied in the gospel that we are to obey God’s laws, but we are also to follow the government’s laws. We are not allowed to break the law. However, we must be alert to the dangers of becoming selfish, allowing social sins, violence and the tyrannical rule of money, and the destruction of dignified work to replace our ethical, moral values. We cannot let our conscience fall asleep as we strive to give God a place in our lives.
We have been experiencing a “new order” in our lives during this pandemic. It has been difficult. Pope Francis says, “Having faith does not mean having no difficulties, but having the strength to face them, knowing we are not alone.” We are not allowed to reach out our hands, but we can reach out our heart, reach out our words, reach out our compassion where we cannot touch. We can follow the rules to ensure we stay healthy while we exercise our practice of doing as Jesus asks: Give to God the things that are God’s.