Immersed in Christ: June 2, 2020
Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News produces confrontation, hostility and his death. Mark records that in his last interactions with his enemies before his passion, he is asked about three basic issues of human existence: the relationship of religion to patriotism, life after death, and life’s greatest value.
First the authorities (priests, scribes and elders) who wanted to kill him “sent to him some Pharisees and Herodians to trap him in what he said.” It was a classic passive-aggressive maneuver. They begin with compliments: “Teacher, we know you are a truthful man, unconcerned about anyone’s opinion… you teach God’s way of life sincerely.” Yeah, right. Then comes the dagger: “Is it lawful [for a Jew] to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” They just want him to take sides on a political issue.
He won’t. It is not a sincere question, and Jesus really doesn’t answer it. He puts the whole issue in a context without drawing any conclusions. First he asks them to show him a Roman coin. “Whose image is this? Whose words are engraved on it?” They answer, “Caesar’s.” “Then.” Jesus says, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Jesus is just recalling the First Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone…. Do not follow any of the gods of the peoples around you….” His hearers, looking at the image of Caesar in their hand, had to be hearing God’s charge: “The images of their gods you shall burn with fire…. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 6:4,14; 7:25; Leviticus 1:4).
Jesus isn’t suggesting that we divide our loyalty between God and Caesar, or between Church and state. If we give to God what is God’s, there is nothing left for Caesar! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart….” God doesn’t accept any divvying up.
By Baptism Christians “die” to this world and everything in it. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). Our trust is not in the government, its military might or its Homeland Security tactics. Nor in its economic stability or financial soundness. “Here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” — and doing our best to build it here below (Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:2). We serve the state when we see it as service to God.
Initiative: Reject idolatry. Do everything for one reason only: God’s.