Is 45:1, 4-6; I Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22: 15-21 _____________________________
A little boy, who wanted $100.00 very badly, prayed for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write GOD a letter requesting $100.00. When the postal authorities received the letter to GOD, U.S.A., they decided to send it to the President. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the boy $50.00. Mr. President thought that this would appear to be a lot of money to the little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $50.00 and immediately sat down to write a thank you note to GOD that read: “Dear God, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, D.C., and, as usual, those guys took half of it.
The common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and heaven. In the first reading, Isaiah the prophet foretells how, indirectly, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will help God’s saving plan for His chosen people. Today’s responsorial Psalm reminds us that when people put God’s Kingdom first, everyone benefits.
In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” With this answer, Jesus reminds his questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord.
Whatever makes people good Christians, makes them good citizens. Last Wednesday I received the 4th degree of the Knights of Columbus. It’s called the Patriotic Degree of the Order. The ceremony explains beautifully the role Catholics have played in the formation of our country, and requesting the candidates to pledge their duty toward God and their commitment to one’s country. This is so because as Christians we are citizens of two worlds: the world we see of body and matter and the unseen world of the spirit. As such we have duties in both worlds, to God and society. Seeing the image of Caesar on a coin, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s”.
To give an example I recall the story St. Thomas More. King Henry VIII of England validly married but appealed to Rome to annul the marriage. Since there was no honest basis for annulment, Rome refused. Henry took matters into his own hands, declared himself Head of the Church in England and remarried. He then ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree he acted rightly in the matter. Many of More’s friends signed, but More refused with the result that he was executed. More had two obligations; one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, More had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
We will get in trouble with the law if we do not give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, for examples: if we don’t pay our tax, respect traffic rules and regulations etc., but we have the most to lose if we do not give back to God the things that are God’s. Our eternal happiness. Because God does not come knocking on our doors when we do not give him what we owe him, it’s easy for us to say I’ll pray later, or I’ll go to church next week or I’ll be good later! Later may not come for any of us. Nothing is more important than our relationship with God. Someday we will leave behind all the other things that we think are so important, and the only thing we will have left is the love for God and for others that we have demonstrated in our daily lives. That love will grow and develop only by prayer and good works.
To summarize: Today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship. We are citizens of the world and citizens of Heaven. We have an allegiance and an obligation to each. We hope the obligations will never clash. But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience.