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29. Sunday A (18.10.2020)

How wonderful to hear: “We know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.” In brief: We know you are an honest person, a man of character. - And how infuriating to see: All this is slimy flattery, false theatre, a plot to hide the decided intention to catch the man by whatever he might say in reply to the question they want to put to him.

This procedure seems extremely modern, fully 2020. These Pharisees have made up their minds as to what they want, and are ready to use every means imaginable to get it. Since the word lie has a negative offensive ring, one speaks of fake news. Fake news is no news at all, but merely lies to achieve one’s aims. As it is ridiculous to speak of news about nothing, fake news is declared to report alternative facts, a sweet term for viciously devised verbal inventions about something to which no one honest and in his senses could ever agree that this is true and demonstrated, backed up by intelligent judgement. The direct word for such talk is “lying”, or more elegantly, “indulging in unwarranted statements”. In a nutshell, truth is discarded as folly of the honest. Looking into the media these days, one is bound to recognise that these Pharisees have plenty of offspring and imitators. Words that have nothing to do with truth and reality are lethally dangerous weapons.

Jesus is fully aware of the circumstances when the disciples of the Pharisees come to him to consult him, as they pretend, on a difficult question of practical importance. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” As shrewd as they thought themselves to be, they had certainly not expected the argument with which Jesus replied. Show me the money you use! What sort of money is this? Oh, Roman money? So, you, sons of Abraham and followers of Moses, you use Roman money? Caesar’s coin? Give it back to whom it belongs!

They surely felt deeply disappointed. No way of accusing him before the colonial administration. And no way of accusing him you speak against the Law of Moses. They themselves had Roman money in their pockets, without finding that unlawful! Finally, in the end Jesus adds a lesson, clarifying the matter in principle. He makes it clear, for them as well as for us and all our social experts: There are two realms, Caesar’s and God’s, that have to be distinguished and kept separate. Both of them exist and both of them have to be respected. Both put their demands to the citizen of this world, and on either side, these demands have to be met. “Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”  

Nobody is allowed to claim: I am a Jew, a member of God’s Chosen People, or I am a Christian, a member of the Catholic Church, and therefore I orientate myself by my religion, and therefore the Government, the civil administration and their laws are no concern of mine. Faith and religion can never serve as a legitimate exit from public, social and civil obligations.

And on the other hand, nobody must ever dare to set God apart or leave him out of sight in the practicalities of life. When Jesus speaks of “what belongs to God”, whatever religion or faith someone might hold, he or she will always immediately understand that in a world created by Almighty God, there is nothing anywhere that does NOT belong to him. Giving to God what belongs to him can only mean giving him everything. The little money that may belong to the emperor becomes entirely irrelevant in this context.

Fr. Dietmar Lenfers