HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
TOPIC: CHURCH AND POLITICS
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mt. 22:15-21 – Taxes to Caesar
Message # 181: “Faithful, Prompt and Obedient”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother gives this message as Queen. She demands faithful, prompt and obedient response from us her children. This message is in line with the theme this Sunday about giving God the first and topmost priority in life. If we are to give what is due to Caesar, in a more absolute and perfect way we are also to give what is due to God. And this we do faithfully, promptly and obediently.
b) “Faithful” (letters c to h) – this means we should follow everything commanded us by God and to do everything the Blessed Mother told us to do; fulfilling our duties according to our state of life; moving ahead in following Jesus without waiting for human approval, encouragement or support (no political and selfish motivations); readiness to suffer in silence for the sake of God.
c) “Prompt” (letters i to n) – this means following the Blessed Mother’s orders without hesitations and doubts; making use of the weapons of prayer, rosary, suffering and self- offering; no more mistrust and uncertainties when it comes to the will of God for us so that we can proceed promptly and swiftly in His name.
d) “Obedient” (letters o to r) – this means silent, humble and perfect obedience to God and His Church through the Pope and the bishops united with him (because there are bishops who are not united with the Pope); the perfect example of obedience to the Father is Jesus Christ who obeyed even to the point of dying on the cross. “I want you to be disciplined in everything, even in the smallest things…obedient to the norms that regulate your (priestly) life.”
2. Background Information
Political Situation of Israel in the time of Jesus – The Roman Empire was the world power at the time of Jesus. It was ruled by the Emperor Tiberius Caesar. The whole empire, since it was too large to manage, was subdivided into provinces. Israel was a province of the empire, and it was administered by Pontius Pilate as governor. However, Israel had two sets of leadership: political and religious. Politically, it was under King Herod. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin, composed of the Pharisees, Sadducees, priests and elders, rule the people in their religious affairs.
Being under the Roman Empire, the Jewish people are obliged to pay taxes to Rome. That is why the tax collectors are hated by the people because they are collecting taxes for the emperor. So they are considered as traitors, and since this is a job, which gives opportunity for more income, they are also regarded as thieves. Jesus chose one of them, Levi (later known as Matthew), as his apostle.
This situation also gave rise to the Jewish rebels, the Zealots, and one of them was chosen by Jesus as an apostle, Simon, the Zealot-party member. They want to drive away the Romans through bloody revolution.
And being members of the Chosen People of God, the Jewish people are also obliged to give the Temple tax, a sacred religious obligation for all Jews.
In this kind of situation, the question posed to Jesus is of great relevance for the people: “Do we really need to pay taxes to the Emperor?”
3. The Sunday Gospel
a) “Why are you testing me?” – Jesus knew the trap set for him. If he says the tax should be paid, he will be ostracized by the Jews. He may even be branded as a traitor to the people of Israel. But if he says not to pay the tax, he will be accused of sedition by the Herodians and the Pharisees, a serious accusation which could put him in prison by the Roman authorities. So he asked them, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” He called them “hypocrites” because these groups are actually paying taxes to the emperor already. In fact, when Jesus asked for a coin, they readily gave him one.
It is not proper for a Jew to possess a Roman coin, for such would be an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Rome’s power. And besides, the inscription on the coin is blatantly blasphemous: “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus”. Nevertheless, the Herodians and Pharisees have these coins in their pockets. They are the classic opportunists and bootlickers who wanted to maintain a good standing with the powerful Roman officials for their own advantage.
b) “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This is the adroit response of Jesus that eluded the trap of his enemies. At the same time, this statement spells out an important guiding principle in social life as well as in religious life, between politics and religion.
What is due to Caesar? The statement of Jesus is a teaching on civil authority. God is the only true source of authority. All legitimate human authority comes from God: “legitimate” because there are human authorities that are illegitimate, such as those acquired by immoral, fraudulent or violent means. That is why dictatorships and elective positions won by cheating or terrorism (“guns, goons and gold”) in elections are illegitimate authority.
Since all legitimate authority originates from God, it has to abide by the norms of divine law as expressed in natural law. For a civil authority to implement laws which are against divine and natural law, such as legalizing abortion, divorce and same sex marriages, is a clear violation of this principle. In such case, the people have to follow the principle articulated by St. Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29: “Better for us to obey God rather than men.” We are not obliged to follow such laws because they are against God’s precepts and are clearly injurious to the well being of the people.
On the other hand, if the legitimate civil authority is faithful to divine principles, the people are obliged to follow and obey. This is what is due to Caesar: obedience from the people. That is why paying taxes to the government is an obligation of the citizens. (After all, the Roman coin bears the name and the face of Caesar). Exercising our right of suffrage (to vote during elections) is a sacred duty. Supporting our civil leaders in their various programs of governance and service to the people is an obligation of the citizens. What is due to God? Everything! God is the source of everything. So it is just logical that everything is due to Him. That is why Jesus said, quoting Deuteronomy: “Love God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” That is 100% – ALL! We should give to God everything of what we have and what we are. All these are due to Him. Period.
4. Separation of Church and State. This issue has always been misunderstood and misused by many people, especially by the unscrupulous and malicious politicians. If we start from the truth that all authority comes from God, it is very clear that the Church has the pre- eminent authority over all civil governments all over the world. (Example: civil marriage. Since the beginning of the Church, there were no civil marriages. All marriages were done in the Church as a sacrament. The State – all governments – did not perform any marriage ceremony. It was only during the coming of the Protestant Revolt, especially with Calvin and Zwingli, founders of more radical Protestant sects, that civil governments started to perform marriage ceremonies, purely civil ceremonies. Very soon, all other countries followed suit and they now have their own civil marriages. And now, there are countries that legalize and perform civil marriages for same sexes – the same-sex marriages – which are against the law of nature and the law of God.)
What happens if a government does not recognize God? That government does not have legitimate authority. It is a fake government; it does not deserve respect and obedience from the people. Does this mean that every government should be tied up with religion? By no means.
Politics etymologically means the science that deals with people (Greek “polis” – people; so we have the term “metropolis” – big city). As such, it is concerned with serving the needs and the welfare of the people. It is the duty of persons involved in politics and who occupy positions in civil government to attend to the needs of the people: public services, health, education, infrastructure, peace and order and many others. These are not the direct concern of religion.
On the other hand, religion is also about people, but its principal concern is not temporal but more in the people’s relationship with God. The reason why there are church-sponsored programs on housing, health and livelihood is because the State cannot adequately provide such services to the people. And the main motivation of people, both in and out of government, involving themselves in service- oriented programs and projects for the welfare of the people is to improve their relationship with God. Both the Church and the State are serving the same people. In this regard, there is, strictly speaking, no separation of Church and State; they are complementary institutions for the welfare of the people.
What, then, is the reason for the principle of separation of Church and State? The real reason for this is for the protection of religions and churches. Freedom of religion is an inalienable right of man. No authority on earth can coerce anybody when it comes to matters of religion. Along this line, the Church should be protected from the intervention of civil officials. The Philippine Constitution states thus:
“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination and preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
“Simply put, the separation of Church and State doctrine as expressed in the present Constitution implies two things, namely, 1) that no religion may be established as the official religion of the State nor prohibits the free exercise thereof; 2) that the State shall not favor one religion over the others. It logically follows from the aforementioned that the State shall allow the free exercise and enjoyment of any religious creed or conviction one may choose to adhere to” (Bishop L. Medroso).
From this, it is clear that this constitutional principle was conceived to protect the Church from the encroachment and meddling of the State in matters of conscience and religion. It is not the other way around. The State cannot establish a religion for the country, and it should not prohibit the free exercise of religion. In other words, the government should not meddle and interfere in Church affairs.
There had been many cases in history that showed such interventions, and they were detrimental to the Church. This is the experience of the Middle (Dark) Ages. Kings and princes appointed bishops and priests, and this led to the decline of the dignity of these ecclesiastical offices and even undermined the authority of the Church. This is still happening now in communist countries like China and Vietnam. In these countries, a cleric cannot be appointed bishop, even with the Pope’s consent, without the approval of the communist government. This is the reason for the principle of separation of Church and State. The fact is, many countries do not observe this.
On the other hand, the Church observes this principle. Canon Law prescribes that it is forbidden for the clergy to seek any public office in partisan politics. Canon 287, par 2 states: “Clerics (both diocesan and religious) are not to play an active role in political parties or in directing trade unions unless, in the judgment of the competent ecclesiastical authority, this is required for the defense of the rights of the Church or to promote the common good.”
A priest who runs for public office is immediately suspended from active ministry and all faculties removed. He is prohibited from saying even private Mass. This prescription of Canon Law is to prevent him from using his priestly office for any political aim and advantage. This is also the reason why the parish priest should not appoint to key positions in the parish his parishioners who are into partisan politics. There is always the danger of using the position for political motives. So the Church has faithfully observed this principle of separation of Church and State. But this principle does not mean that the Church cannot actively participate in matters of the State. Just as a mayor or governor or president can go to Church and attend Mass, so also a priest or bishop can vote and be an active supporter of government programs. The mayor is also a member of Christ’s faithful, just as the priest is a citizen of a country. Unfortunately, many politicians refuse to recognize this fact.
When the Church takes active involvement in housing and poverty alleviation programs, nothing is heard from the politicians. But when the priests and bishops talk against corruption and immorality in government, and lead people in airing their grievances, the politicians are quick in invoking the principle of separation of Church and State. That is an illustration of how ignorant and malicious our political leaders are.
Why is the Church exempted from paying taxes? Actually, tax-exemption privileges are not only granted by the government to the Catholic Church, but also to other charitable institutions, such as foundations, cooperatives, and non- governmental organizations (NGO’s). The reason is simple: we pay taxes to support the government in providing basic services to the people, such as infrastructure, housing, health, education and livelihood. However, it is a well- known fact that it cannot adequately provide such basic services to the people. That is why the Church has put up schools, hospitals, housing projects and other charitable institutions in order to help the government. The government does not provide subsidies to these Catholic institutions. Instead, in recognition of these valuable contributions, it grants tax exemption to the Church.
In fact, in some European countries, such as Germany and Italy, it is the government that pays for the salaries of the clergy and the maintenance of church buildings. In the Philippines, politicians who bring up this issue against the Catholic Church are only displaying their ignorance and stupidity.
4. Closing Song:
“Paghahandog ng Sarili”
QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Ano ang masasabi mo tungkol sa pulitika sa ating bansa? Masasabi ba nating ito ay “legitimate authority” na galing sa Diyos?
2. Dapat bang makialam ang mga Obispo at pari sa pulitika?
3. Ano ang dapat ibigay kay Caesar (gobyerno)? At ano naman ang dapat natin ibigay sa Diyos?