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Respect secular powers, but remember we are all created by and belong to God


By Fr Patrick McCafferty

Let's face it - some types of 'religious' people are mean. We see many examples of it during Our Lord's public ministry - the sheer determination of 'religious' people to undermine Him, to catch Him out, twist His words - and, ultimately, to destroy Him.

The well-known phrase of the Lord, "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and, to God, the things that are God's", comes to us from an occasion when the 'holier-than-thou' zealots were at their work trying to 'trap' Him (See Matthew 22:15-21). At worship this weekend, many of us will revisit this encounter between Jesus and His sworn enemies - the Pharisees.

"Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?" In their view, whatever answer He gives will get Him into dangerous trouble.

If He says 'yes' - the majority of the people, who hate the Roman forces of occupation, will turn against Him. If He says 'no' - the authorities will realise He is seditious and deal with Him accordingly. But Jesus, 'aware of their malice', gives the answer that is forever remembered: "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give God what belongs to God."

The secular powers, like Caesar, have their rightful place and are to be given due respect. However, 'Caesar is not God'. The worldly powers did not give us life and we do not 'belong' to them. Jesus's answer, which confounded the scheming Pharisees, declares a central truth about who we are as human beings.

The coins, with which taxes are paid, bear the name of the secular power. The human person, however, created in the image of God, bears God's likeness and belongs to God - no one else.

Human beings are precious creations of the Living God - each one unique and of infinite worth; each one endowed with inalienable rights and dignity -from the moment of conception, to the moment of our passing from into Eternity.

The Roman regime occupying Palestine during Our Lord's earthly ministry, like so many before and since, had scant regard for human life, rights and dignity. The 'religious' authorities, hellbent upon delivering the Lord into Caesar's cruel hands, were animated by a similar anti-God, anti-human dynamic. Power in every age, whether religious or secular, divorced from compassion, mercy and justice, becomes a pitiless monster that devours all in its path and seeks to destroy everything that threatens its interests.

The Church's martyrs, of every time and place, are those who stood, with courage, before brutal ideologies - whether worldly or ecclesiastical - bearing witness that man and woman belongs only to God. The true identity of every human being originates in God who is Infinite Love. God is 'the Lord unrivalled' (Isaiah 45:5). Genuine recognition of this truth must draw forth from us 'faith in action' that, works for love and perseveres, through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ (See I Thessalonians 1:1-5).

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