For God or Caesar
Is it proper for the government to share tax revenue with the education and charity initiatives of the Church? This has always been a matter of contention. Whenever the government speaks about school funding, arguments about the share to the Catholic Schools becomes a hot issue of discussion in the media and otherwise. It is nothing new. In 1962, the government then decided that Catholic Schools do not deserve tax payer funding. The Catholic Church argued that they are entitled to their share of the tax to educate and form their children in religious values and faith life. Protesting the Government decision, the Catholic Archdiocese of Goulburn decided to close all its Archdiocesan Schools with immediate effect. The tactics worked and the government was obliged to continue funding the Catholic Schools. The Government support for religious schools continues in our country till today, though some continue to question the merit of it.
While we debate the government’s response to religion and its initiatives, Jesus’ time was different. The religious people of his time asked the question, ‘Is it proper to pay tax to a pagan emperor?’ Our Lord’s response to that question is what we read in Matthew 22:15-21.
The question Jesus was asked was a tricky one. “Is it against the Law of Moses to pay taxes to Caesar?” Denarius, the Roman coin with which the tax was to be paid, had the image of the Caesar with the inscription, ‘Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus’. Because of this icon and inscription, any handling of such a coin by the Jewish people would have been incompatible with the teaching of Leviticus and Deuteronomy about idolatry (Ref Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8; Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Therefore, saying ‘yes’ would have been seen as Jesus disregarding the Law of Moses. If Jesus was to answer ‘no’, that would have brought him in trouble with the ruler, Caesar. Jesus seeing through their intention to trap him, answered cleverly ‘give it to him and give to God what is due to God’. This answer of Jesus also settled for the disciples of early Church in their position on their relationship with the civil authorities. Christians are to pay the dues to the civil authorities; let not trivialities like money hinder the primacy of God in your life. Commit to God life and all that life brings to God, who is the author of life and your provider.
The challenge we have in our time is to not let our material affluence blind us to the importance of giving glory to God in our lives. Our faith life matters and in fact it matters most. Yet it does not exclude our civil responsibilities. Let your material affluence and civil responsibilities not hinder your faith commitments, but enhance it.