Today’s gospel is so rich – there are several issues that can lead us to deeper reflection. For instance, when does our responsibility to society and to God begin and end? Do we really have to put our social and religious obligation in opposition with each other? The Catholic Church Catechism points out that there are three circumstances where citizens are obliged in conscience to refuse obedience to civil authorities. These are in situations when the laws are “contrary to the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons and to the teachings of the gospel.” The principle is clear. However, its application may not be so simple when there is apparent clash of rights.
The realities of life and relational dynamics are not simple black and white categorization. There are aspects that require better comprehension due to inherent complexities. The question put before Jesus whether it is permissible for Jews to pay tribute to Caesar sheds light into the mind and strategy of the Pharisees. They were trying to bring Jesus into a political trap that would set him at odds with the Roman authorities who were the rulers of Israel at that time or else, when this fails, it would discredit him before his own people. To avoid giving rise to suspicion of their intention, they decided not to get themselves involved personally. They sent some of their disciples to Jesus instead. It is quite likely that the leaders of the Pharisees stayed in the background because they wanted the followers of Herod, the Roman appointed tetrarch of Galilee, to take part also in the plot against Jesus even though these Herodians, who openly advocated cooperation with the Romans, were their most bitter enemies. It appears to be a truth-seeking inquiry with malicious intent, to say the least. The religious leaders wanted to hide behind their manipulative action at the expense of Jesus. But we know that any ill intent will never produce good fruit.
For our reflection on this Sunday’s gospel, I wish to humbly invite you to look into the aspect where we try and maybe attempt unconsciously to separate our actions as belonging either to the private or to the public sphere. Such is the case with the social responsibility like paying tax which we might consider as belonging to the public realm, while our relationship with God is considered a private matter and has no significance or no connection to our public life. This dichotomy is an act of denying that everything is a gift from God and belongs to God, including Caesar. This is so because to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s means also fidelity to God since God wills that we be concerned for our society. This in turn is a partial fulfilment of our basic duty, that is, to give to God what is his. Relegating God into the private space of our life and social relationships indicates that social obligation is of greater importance than God – it is tantamount to committing idolatry (a worship of money and power).
To give what is due is to recognize one’s role in promoting the common good. In like manner, it shows the centrality of God in one’s own existence as the Alpha and Omega of everything we do in this life. God establishes connection rather than create conflict. In God there are is no category of private and public for God is all in all.