In today’s Gospel two of the most unlikely Jewish groups (the Herodians and the Pharisees) join together to trap Jesus to discredit Jesus and get rid of him. The Pharisees were religious purists, insisting upon total observance of the religious law while the Herodians, who ruled in Rome’s name, mixed with the ruling elite but kept up a pretence of religious practice to justify their lifestyles and dependency on Rome. The question put to Jesus required a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer: If Jesus said yes, pay the Roman tax, he would be recognising the emperor Caesar, not God, as his Lord and the Jewish people would rise up against him. If Jesus said, ‘don’t pay the tax’, he would be inciting rebellion and be charged with treason. On the face of it, either way he would be in trouble and be discredited. But Jesus does outwit them, turning the tables on them by posing his own question: “whose head? whose image is on the coin?”
By getting them to admit the image was of Caesar, Jesus avoids agreeing to either ideology (obedience to God alone or obedience to human power) instead reminding them that there are duties and dues are owed both to God and to Caesar (our rulers). Paul sees no inconsistency in being good citizens (Romans 13:6- And this is why you should pay taxes, too, because the authorities are all serving God as his agents).
The same question can be put to us: “whose image”? We are citizens of a truly lucky country, filled with so much wealth and beauty. But by our baptism, we are also citizens of another kingdom: the kingdom of God, in whose image we are made and by whom we are created to live in harmony on this earth until we are called to be with our creator for all eternity. We are “dual citizens” with duties to both our secular rulers, but especially to God. Politicians will come and go; governments will be here one day and gone the next, but God is eternal. So let us pray for the grace to put God first, his commandments and the teachings of Holy Mother church, gathered together in Synod, with God’s holy Spirit guiding us and helping to listen, share and to discern His will. How do we do what is right? What are our own priorities, our loyalties as Christians? Are we willing to stand up for what is right or are we going to ‘bottle out’ like the Herodians, taking the easy way out with the culture of the day? On the importance of life: human rights, on the deliberate devaluation of peoples and cultures, capital punishment, on the millions of lives lost to abortion, on euthanasia, on the sanctity of marriage? We pray for the grace to be counted as standing up for all our suffering brothers and sisters all over the world, and especially in the terrible, unjust conflicts in the Middle East resulting in such great loss of life, property destruction and homelessness.