Posted by: fvbcdm | October 17, 2011

Feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (17 Oct 2011)

 This past Sunday at Mass we read the story of Our Lord’s encounter with a group of his enemies who wanted to trap him by his own words.  So they asked him if it was lawful to pay the tax to the Roman Empire which was required of those living in Roman-occupied lands, like Israel and Judea. The trap they were trying to set was this: if he said yes, pay the Roman tax, he would have seemed to be acknowledging the legitimacy of the Roman domination over the Holy Land and would have been condoning the use of Roman coins on which there was an image of the emperor.  The Jews considered any artistic representation of a human being to be a violation of the first commandment which forbade the production of  “graven images.”  To this day, we will find no representations of human beings in Jewish synagogues for that same reason.
On the other hand, if Our Lord had said no, don’t pay the Roman tax, he would have been preaching disobedience of the law and therefore seeming to be a revolutionary.  He saw very clearly through their malice and called them hypocrites.  Then he asked to see a Roman coin.  “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” he asked.  They were of the emperor, Caesar.  Probably Tiberias Caesar who had come to the Roman throne in the year 14 A.D., when Our Lord was about twenty years old—before his public life had begun.  It was forbidden to use the coins with “graven images” to buy sacrificial animals in the Temple; that’s why there were “money-changers” there, whose piles of coins Our Lord once scattered all over the floor because of their greed and dishonesty.  The men speaking with Our Lord answered his question: “Caesar’s.”  So the fact that there were two systems of coins in the Holy Land is emphasized here.  Well, then, answered Jesus,
“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Revolutionary war and many deaths inflicted by Roman ruthlessness were too high a price to pay for refusing to use Roman coins, which certainly were not the object of veneration or worship by the Jewish people.  Our Lord is advocating moderation as he did in all his disputes with the extremism of the Pharisees.


As we hear much about politics these days—about elections and taxes and investments—we have in these words of Our Lord a basic principle for living both in this world and the next.  Our Caesar is our national, state, and local government.  We must obey it as much as we can and must, but without ever offending God by doing so.  It is not always easy or clear to know which way to go.  What about capital punishment? Abortion in tax-supported hospitals?  The dropping of atom bombs upon cities? The more capitalistic Republican platforms vs. the more socialistic Democratic ones?
Let us pray for our country and its people in these moral, political, financial, and military matters. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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