The struggle between our obligations to our secular government and our religious obligations might be real, but for many they have been a ruse to choose one over the other.
Those who come to Jesus and ask the question as to whether or not they should pay their taxes, paid those taxes freely and knew the benefits of doing so. They weren’t interested in taxes, they wanted to trap Jesus in a political or religious snare. While our nation -- when it’s convenient -- boasts of a “wall of separation” between church and state, it’s more of a blurry line that causes much confusion for the faithful disciple.
It could be easy to use the response of Jesus to the Pharisees and the Herodians as an excuse to support any number of tense political issues in our times. So often as Christians, and especially as Catholics, we are asked to submit to laws and policies that are contrary to our moral teaching and even the natural moral law.
Yet, we can hide behind the comfort that says that such moral choices are unnecessary as we do not need to submit to them ourselves. The decision on the part of some to support same sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, elimination of support for children living in poverty, rejection of assylum seekers and any other morally questionable programs while ignoring the teachings of the Church, causes conflict and confusion.
Jesus was not telling his disciples that the things that the state wants to do the state can do, and the things that their faith requires of them must remain solely within those confines. Indeed, in a backwards way he affirmed the paying of the taxes, while diminishing the importance of doing so. Yet, we do not in the same way pay homage to the state for any and everything that it wants or demands.
The socio-political and religious world of Jesus and the first Christians is markedly different from what we experience and live in today. We are called to a prophetic mission, not a political one. We are called to be active and good citizens, but at times that will require us to be at odds with the prevailing political climate. This is not a comfortable position to be in, and this forces us to compromise.
At the same time, we prioritize certain moral principles over others. The pro-life teaching of the Church, especially as regards abortion, assumes preeminence over other issues, which at times leads us to ignore them so much that we lose any influence in those areas.
Likewise, there are those who strongly object to the intervention and opinions of the bishops, and even of the Holy See, when the teaching of the church stands at odds with their own political opinions.
It is not easy to navigate these religious rights, beliefs, and our civic responsibilities, rights, and duties. Many American Catholics have grown weary of the political process, finding that neither major political party is in line with the compendium of Catholic social doctrine. As such, it seems to force us into compromise, and keeps us divided according to how we prioritize social issues and Catholic teaching.
This is an unfortunate reality, and one that the political parties seem to take advantage of for their own political gains.
Whenever we seem to be forced to compromise anything, but especially the most fundamental aspects of our faith, the lesson of Jesus this weekend should be clear. Ultimately, while the coin might belong to “Caesar,” everything comes from God and is his. The emperor might put his picture or seal on something temporal, thereby assigning it a value, all really is God’s and it is to God alone that we owe our allegiance and honor.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.