Church and State
Hello and welcome to Spend Five with Jesus I Am the Friar. This is Sunday, October 22nd, 2023. I am delighted that you have joined us today. Hope the day is a good one wherever you are today.
We have a really well-formed, well-developed, and pretty much accepted theory of government where there’s a separation of church and state. Remember the people that came to this country in the United States, (and) I’m speaking from the United States perspective. I know we have listeners from other parts of the world, but I’m speaking here that we had people that came to this country who were facing religious persecution.
They were being persecuted for their beliefs and their practice of a particular faith. One of the things that they didn’t want to do is they didn’t want to repeat of what they were leaving where the government had an official religion and they were being prejudiced because they didn’t practice that religion. They set up a system where the government had to be quote benignly neutral if we look at the constitution of the United States.
It’s typically referred to as the separation of church and state. Now it’s not to protect the government from religion, it’s to protect people who practice their faith from the government. That’s an important thing to understand because a lot of people will say, well I have freedom of speech, I have free speech.
Well it doesn’t mean that when a private company sets conditions for using their product that you can claim a free speech violation if you agree to those terms by using their product. For example, Facebook. I can get mad, I can get mad, but I can’t say that Facebook is limiting my right to free speech because I agreed to the terms that Facebook set up when I joined the platform.
It’s the government that is the focus here and that’s important for us to understand because now we’re going to dive into the gospel where we see that there is a question here being posed to Jesus understandably to trick him, but there’s a question being proposed to Jesus about the relationship between whether or not people should pay the census tax or whether they should not.
Now the issue has to do with a complicated political reality, namely that the scribes and the Pharisees had made a deal with the Romans so they could continue to practice their faith and in exchange for that they would make sure the people were very much under control.
And the religious leaders, at least some of them, became very wealthy and had a lot of power at the expense of people that were poor and struggling and so this question is really a trick question because what it’s really posing is, is it more important to be a good citizen or a faithful Jew?
And of course the answer is obvious it’s more important to be a faithful Jew but if Jesus says that then the charge can be leveled against him that he is committing treason. So it’s a trick question. Jesus, if he answers this directly, he is stuck. But Jesus doesn’t answer it directly.
He says okay who’s on the coin? It’s Caesar, it’s a Roman coin. Well then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what it’s God’s. Now the interesting part of this answer is that well in a way everything is God’s right? Because God is the Lord, the all-powerful God who does anything and everything for us and with us.
But it does pose an interesting question I think for us today because sometimes I worry that we’ve gotten into a political time where we think that in order to be a good Catholic one needs to belong to this party or that party.
There are people who will suggest that you really if you’re going to be a good Catholic you have to be a Republican. There are other people that suggest if you’re going to be a good Catholic you have to be a Democrat. The reality is neither the Democrats nor the Republicans express our faith perfectly.
And so we have to make prudential decisions all the time and a prudential decision is just something that when we’re faced with making a decision we have to consider all of the variables and do the best we can. The reality is that what we’re really being asked today is what’s most important to us. What’s most important to us? Is our faith the most important thing or is there something else?
I can get mad at the government for a whole bunch of reasons but I can’t confuse what the government does as important as that may be with the true importance of my faith and my action in the church. It’s a complex question but it’s a really easy one for us. Jesus calls us to build up the kingdom of God. And that does mean living in a particular way, but it doesn’t mean that there’s only one solution to a complex problem.
So it impacts how we love God and love neighbor and legislation can in fact impact how we demonstrate our love for neighbor but the truth is the primary obligation that we have if we’re going to give to God what belongs to God the primary obligation is our relationship with Jesus and our participation and action in the Church.
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