Gospel Reflection for Oct. 18, 2020, 29th Sunday in Ordinary time

Having listened carefully to the parables that Jesus used to instruct the chief priests and elders in the Temple precincts, it seems that they have understood his teaching and yet at the same time, they seem to ignore what he has been saying. Perhaps due to their own hubris, or maybe their distrust of him and his teaching, they prepare to do exactly what he warned against. Jesus called out the chief priests and elders for their history of misjudging and mistreating the prophets that the Lord sent even from the earliest of times.

Now these elders decide that they need a ruse to trap Jesus so that they have an excuse to have him arrested. Perhaps lacking confidence in their own ability to bring him to a religious trial, they attempt to trick him into speaking against the Roman authorities, thus getting him off their hands without doing it themselves. Jesus does not fall for the trick. 

In one of the most oft-cited remarks from Jesus when asked about paying taxes to Rome Jesus adroitly states: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Left with no way either to counter or to further trap him, they walk away. However, they are not finished. In just a matter of days he will be hanging on a Roman cross; they will have achieved their end; they will have also secured their own demise.

This is a challenging and very difficult teaching on the part of Jesus. It opened up many different interpretations over the course of the history of the Church. In contemporary American society it is often employed as an endorsement from Jesus to adhere to what has come to be known as a “wall of separation” between Church and state. This was certainly not Jesus’ intent, and such a wall was unimaginable in the Roman world. Yet now, as we face another election cycle and certainly one of the more contentious in our history, this teaching from Jesus is swirling about yet again.

Each of us must carefully discern in our own lives and with our own conscience – guided as always by the teaching of the Church – how we are going to vote on many issues this fall. While many of us have already voted, we still have time to pray and to contemplate with great care the exercise of our civic responsibility. As every discerning Catholic has known for over a generation now, neither political party represents our fundamental moral teachings well.

This leaves open the relationship between the Catholic and the social order. What must we render to Caesar?

In paragraph 12 of the US Bishops’ document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” they write: “The Catholic community brings important assets to the political dialogue about our nation’s future. We bring a consistent moral framework – drawn from basic human reason that is illuminated by Scripture and the teaching of the Church – for assessing issues, political platforms, and campaigns. We also bring broad experience in serving those in need – educating the young, serving families in crisis, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, helping women who face difficult pregnancies, feeding the hungry, welcoming immigrants and refugees, reaching out in global solidarity, and pursuing peace. We celebrate, with all our neighbors, the historically robust commitment to religious freedom in this country that has allowed the Church the freedom to serve the common good.”

Hence, we in a sense have a moral obligation to participate in the political life of our society and to be proactive in the global realm. But first and foremost, all that we do must be grounded in faith – faith in Jesus Christ – and framed in the fundamental belief that as disciples we are called to be faithful first to God and to also be good citizens.

But ultimately, as Jesus constantly reminds us, everything is from and for God and God alone. The only kingdom that matters in the end is the Kingdom of God.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.