The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us then, what is your opinion: "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that He said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and repay to God what belongs to God." (Mt 22 15-21)
For centuries Christians have concentrated mostly on “giving to God what belongs to God.” Religious observances were top priority on their agenda, as well as in their examination of one's conscience. They offered the criterion to decide whether one was a “practising Catholic” or not.
“Give to Caesar what is due to Caesar” was generally understood as paying one’s taxes and obeying the laws of the country promulgated by the legitimate authority. Contributive justice and obedience to the legitimate authority are just two aspects of our civic duties. Important and hard as these may be, there are also other ways in which we are expected to make our contribution to the building up of a better, more humane, more just society.
The list is long: love of country and its cultural values, respect for the environment, honesty, good example, solidarity, contribution of ideas and even constructive criticism, avoidance of waste, hard work, considering the whole nation as one’s “greater family”. . . . These are just some of the ways through which we “give to Caesar what is due to Caesar” – some aspects of what it means to be a “good citizen” today.
Even the term “good citizen” must have, for us, a wider meaning now than it had in the past. It must mean to be an active and responsible member of the family of nations that make up mankind – one that takes to heart the hopes, aspirations, and difficulties of every human being and society.
We must learn to leave our "comfort zone" ghettos and acquire a “participative mentality.” We must learn to feel responsible for the world in all its aspects because this is our world – the world God has entrusted to our stewardship in order that we make it “the blueprint of the Kingdom.”
Vatican II and subsequent pronouncements of the Church’s Teaching Authority have not only confirmed this “new orientation,” but have also spelled it out in greater detail. They have also proclaimed clearly that it is the specific duty of the Catholic laity to get involved – and actually to take the lead – in the building of a better world. This is their mission. It is in accomplishing such a “mission to the world” that they will be contributing to the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth, and thereby bring about their own sanctification.
One cannot be a good Christian if one does not endeavor to be a good citizen of one’s country as well as of all the “family of nations.” We must be fully involved. We owe it to ourselves, to society, to the Church. It is only by “giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar” that we begin to “give to God what is due to God.”
EUCHALETTE 19 October 2008
Word and Life Publications
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