29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘question’ as “sentence worded or expressed so as to seek information or an answer; a doubt or dispute about a matter.” So, the most fundamental use of ‘question’ is to get information.
However, different people have different reasons for asking different questions. Some ask questions because they do not know and they want to learn. Some ask questions not so much to get answers but to challenge people. Some ask questions even though they know the answer – they just want to test or challenge others (and hoping others would commit mistakes).
In today’s gospel reading, the Pharisees ask Jesus a question: “Is it lawful to pay census tax to Caesar or not?” This is a tricky question – and it is meant to trap Jesus. If Jesus were to answer, “Yes, it is lawful to pay tax to Caesar,” he would appear to be siding with the Romans, their enemies who were occupying their country. But if he were to answer in the negative – “No, it is not lawful” – he could be denounced to the authorities as a subversive. So, whatever Jesus answers, he would be vehemently opposed. People would get mad at him.
Knowing their evil intent, Jesus asks his interrogators to show him a coin, a denarius. And then he asks, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” The coin had the image of Caesar, that is why it belongs to Caesar – who claimed to be god – and the coin bore the inscription: Caesar is God. The fact that the questioners of Jesus can produce the Roman coin suggests that they recognize the rule of Caesar. Many pious Jews refused to use the denarius because it violated the Mosaic prohibition against image.
Moreover, Jesus’ question – “Whose image is this?” – is a profound question. It is meant to lead us to a deeper reflection and realization. Implicit to Jesus’ question-answer in the gospel is the question: “Whose image are you?” Is it not true that the human person has the image of God on him or her? According to the book of Genesis, the human person is made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, the human person belongs to God precisely because he or she has the image of God on him or her.
Megan McKenna comments that Jesus refuses to be caught in their trap and instead calls them to remember whom they belong to: God alone. So, if the state remains within its proper boundaries and demands what is rightfully for the state, people must show obedience and service to it.
However, because the human person and the state belong to God, so when there is conflict between the demands of the state and God, obedience and faithfulness to God must prevail. Since the image of God is impressed on the human person and the human person belongs to God, he or she must oppose any law or policy of the state that contradicts God’s will. We must live by this principle.
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This passage has been used in the wrong context. It has been ‘abused’ by those who say that the Church must not meddle in politics. Such a remark indicates a narrow understanding of what the Church is. The Church in the modern world is concerned not only for the spiritual well-being of people, but also, for the development of the total human person – that includes all aspects or dimensions of being human.
One gospel commentary puts it this way: “To relegate the concerns of the Church to religious rites and sacraments is to deprive the Church of one of its basic functions.” “When the welfare of people – be it social, economic, political or cultural – is threatened from whatever source, the Church is mandated to intervene.” “Total salvation includes the liberation of men and women from everything that hinders their growth to fullness of life.” This is articulated in many Church documents – particularly, in the so-called Social Teachings of the Church.
We have to realize that it is the sacred duty of the Church to teach about the things of God and the things that must be for God – including leading and governing, following and obeying. Kaya tungkulin ng Simbahan na tuligsain at batikusin ang kabuktutan kapag ito ay umiiral o pinaiiral ng pamahalaan. Tungkulin ng Simbahan na ipaglaban ang kapakanan ng tao, kapag ito ay sinasantabi at binabalewala ng pamahalaan. Tungkulin ng Simbahan na ipagtanggol ang mga karapatang pangtao kapag ito ay niyuyurakan at nilalabag ng pamahalaan. Precisely because by fulfilling these responsibilities, the Church is “giving to God what belongs to God.” It is a concrete way of carrying out its mission: that of establishing the kingdom of God – a kingdom of truth, justice, peace, and love.