MESSAGE FROM MONS JOHN – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time / A – 22nd October, 2017

In St Matthews’s Gospel, especially in the passage we have been reading on the past few Sundays, Jesus is reported to have been very critical of the High Priests and the Elders of the people. Hence, in today’s Gospel passage those very same community leaders try to trap Jesus into saying something heretical.

The Pharisees asked Jesus if it was proper for Jewish people to pay taxes to a foreign power – namely the Romans. They believed that they were God’s chosen people and to give support to the Romans, albeit by paying taxes, would be a heresy.

If Jesus said “yes’ he would be a heretic. If he said “no’ he would be a conspirator against the Roman authorities. It was a trap question. In fact, it is a question that has bedevilled the church and the State (Governments) over many centuries. It brings into focus the juxtaposition between the “freedom of religion”, on the one hand, and the “authority of the State” on the other.

It is a controversial issue that we face in our own time. Do the doctrines, traditions and teachings of Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, for example, override the laws of the land? In his response to the Pharisees, Jesus makes it clear that there is a proper and moral distinction between Church and State. There must be, he is saying, a separation between Church and State.

“Give what belongs to Caesar to Caesar; and give to God what belongs to God”.

We would sincerely wish that God’s law of love and peace was always in harmony with the laws of the land in which we live. Unfortunately that is not always the case. We must, as Christians therefore, constantly remind ourselves of the proper separation of Church and State.

Rev Fr Tom Stevens