Today would have been the optional memorial for Saint John Paul II, but it is a Sunday. I thought I would post one of his holy cards, but which one to post? I chose this one, it links John Paul II with John XXII. Pope John XXII was the pope that opened Vatican II. Saint John Paul II spent his entire pontificate under the guidance of that Vatican council, and his successor Benedict XVI was one of his primary advisors. All three certainly influenced Pope Francis. Saint John Paul II understood apostolic succession well, with an understanding of the past and an eye towards the future.
In todays gospel Mt 22:15-21 a Pharisee asks Jesus: Should Jews be required to pay the Roman tax? It is a trick question. Say yes and be cursed by your fellow Jews, say no and deal with the wrath of the Romans. What to do? Jesus requests the coin and points to its image of Caesar. Caesar the Emperor, Caesar declared god. He asks whose image is this, they respond Caesars. Jesus reply “give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods.”
Did Jesus think Caesar a god? No, Caesar was a man. A powerful man, a delusional man, it matters little how Caesar is described. The truth is Caesar was nothing more and nothing less than man. Give to Caesar what is Caesars can be rewritten give to man what is mans. But what does anyone owe another man, and how does that compare with what one owes God?
The Torah says much about what men owe one another, and the same is true with the ten-commandments. Both describe at length the debts of men towards one another, and the debt of man to God. Jesus in the New Testament described it in two simple commandments. The first, Love God with your entire heart, mind and soul. The second, love your neighbor as yourself. A message simple enough to fit on both sides of the same coin.
Caesar was a man and deserved to be treated as any Christian treats another. He deserved to be treated as a slave treats their master , and a master their slave. The argument expands to the treatment of wives by husbands, and again husbands by wives. Do unto others. Even when that is difficult? Even when that is difficult, and there is a way out?
Certainly that story of the coin gives reference to the affairs of Religion versus government, and there is relevance to that today. Often Religion forbids certain actions, yet the government is more lenient. Which side of the coin does one accept? There are a lot of those issues in the news today.
The argument of Caesars coin, should not be limited to affairs of Church versus State. How easy would it have been for a Pharisee, or any first century Jew, to love Caesar? How does one treat another under difficult circumstances? How does one treat another as themselves when the conditions are difficult. Who can love an executioner? Who loves an enemy, or a thief, or a beggar? Who can do right by someone who did them wrong? That side of the coin is a little more personal.
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time