Date: Sunday, October 22, 2017
I have a twenty pound note (British Sterling) from my last trip to London. Queen Elizabeth, her portrait, is imprinted on one side. She is the reigning monarch. It is a custom here, in our country, to have currency engraved with the figure of a notable man or in the case of a “silver” dollar -- Susan B. Anthony. For most Americans and the English this custom is not offensive but having a coin or denarius in your purse at the time of Jesus could signal that you are sympathetic or collaborating with the Roman occupational army! The image of the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine priest Augustus, was imprinted on the tribute coin used for the census tax. For a faithful Jew it was graven image, an idol.
Pharisees and Herodians, in league together, try to trap Jesus by asking: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus says: “yes” he will be painted as a collaborator; if he says: “no” he will be seen as a rebel or zealot. Either way Jesus loses. But Jesus asks for the coin that pays the tax. Unwittingly, they hand Jesus the coin in question thus compromising their own sincerity. Jesus asks: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They reply: “Caesar’s.” Avoiding entrapment, Jesus tells them: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We are dual citizens – in the country we live and in the Kingdom to come. Catholic Catechism states: Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country. But Catholics must follow God first, “refusing obedience to civil authorities when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience.” St. Peter in his letter in the New Testament puts it succinctly: “Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.” (1Peter 2:17) St. Thomas More, before his execution, affirms: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”