Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we are called to dedicate ourselves to the Lord while doing what is right and required according to the laws and requirements of the nations and the states of this world that each one of us belong to. As good Christians of course first and foremost we must obey the Lord and devote ourselves to Him in all things, but at the same time, as far as possible and so long as it does not contradict our faith in God, then we must also obey the laws of the land.
In our Gospel passage this was summarised well as we heard the Lord speaking to the chief priests and the Pharisees who wanted to trap Him with His own words and responses to their queries, with regards to the matter of paying the taxes due to the Romans. At that time, the Romans were the rulers and the overlords of the land, including that of the Jewish state and territories throughout Judea and Galilee, and taxes is an important sign of control as well as submission to the Roman rule.
Naturally, many among the Jews resented the imposition of taxes as they did not want to be ruled by the Romans, regardless of what benefits that had brought them. They wanted to be free and this led to efforts to free the land from Roman rule, even through the use of force and struggle as done by the Zealots and other extremist freedom fighters at the time. If the Lord had told the chief priests to pay the taxes to the Romans, then the latter could have undermined the Lord’s authority and credibility by portraying Him as a traitor to the people and country.
On the other hand, had the Lord told the chief priests that the people should not pay any taxes, then immediately the latter could have then handed Him to the Romans for inducing a sedition and treasonous action among the people by refusing to pay the obligatory Roman taxes. The Romans took any attempt at betrayal and treason very seriously, and throughout its earlier history, they had treated treason as very grave threat and crime against the state punishable by death. This is what the Lord eventually suffered as the chief priests later on would hand Him over to the Romans with the false accusation that Jesus wanted to proclaim Himself King of the Jews.
Hence, the Lord then wisely answered the queries of the chief priests by saying that one ought to give to God what belongs to God and then give to man and country what belongs to those. And this is the truth that cannot be refuted by any of those who tried to accuse the Lord wrongly, as when one paid their taxes, they did so with the coins issued by the Romans, stamped with the image of the Emperor. As such, those coins did belong to the state and the Emperor, just as our own modern day currency also belong to the state, and in fact in a lot of places, it is illegal to deface or damage a piece of currency be it a paper money or coinage.
Meanwhile, what does it mean by giving to God what belongs to God? It means that we ought to give of ourselves, dedicating our own time, effort and attention to the Lord. Why is that so? That is because we are all God’s own people, His own beloved ones, and we all belong to Him. Hence, it is only right that we give ourselves to God wholeheartedly and commit ourselves to Him thoroughly, as best as we are able to, in every moment and at all times.
This is therefore what we are all challenged to do as Christians, to be faithful and obedient to God while trying our best to be law-abiding citizens of this world as much as we are able to do. And while this is not something that is easy to be done, we should gain the courage and strength to do what we can to remain faithful to the Lord while managing the expectations of the world. Of course, first and foremost we have to obey the divine Law first, but as long as the local and human laws do not contradict the divine Law, we can obey those as well.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Justin the Martyr, a renowned early Church Father and philosopher who was once a pagan but then after a fateful encounter with a wise old Christian man, came to know of the Lord and His infinite wonders, and then he chose to become a Christian afterwards. He established a well-known school of philosophy in Rome, gaining quite a few followers, many among whom also decided to become Christians. Through his writings, it was told that he managed to get the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, another famous philosopher, to end the persecution of Christians by the Roman state.
While later on St. Justin would be arrested and martyred together with some of his followers, after a dispute with another philosopher who then incited the authorities to arrest him, St. Justin showed us through his works and interactions, with pagan philosophers and even with the Emperor himself, that it was indeed possible to be fully faithful and committed to God and yet also live in harmony as a law-abiding member of the community and the state. In fact, it was this harmonious coexistence that often gave rise to various opportunities at evangelisation of the faith.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we reflect on this matter, let us all seek to follow the examples set by St. Justin the Martyr and our many other holy predecessors that we may also be first and foremost be wholeheartedly committed to the Lord and love Him with all of our heart, but at the same time also doing our best to live harmoniously with the world, and do our best to reach out to our fellow brothers and sisters in our community. Through our exemplary faith and actions, our sincerity in loving one another, may God’s Name ever be glorified, and may He bless us all in our every efforts and good works, always. Amen.