Mission Society of the Philippines



Mt 22:15-21

THE QUESTION OF the Pharisees to Jesus was not an easy one.  In fact, Jesus was in a no-win situation. Had he said that the tax should be paid, he would appear himself as a traitor to his country, he would lose his special calling as the people’s messiah. Had he said that the tax should not be paid, he would be imprisoned because such a denial would make him an enemy of Rome.
Aware of their malicious thought, Jesus gave the Pharisees an answer that somehow frustrated them: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. The answer of Jesus was meant to challenge the people, the Pharisees included, to be serious in their responsibility toward God, and in their responsibility toward the state. Both God and the state have a claim over the people, but not one would cancel the other. And what does this gospel say to us?
Firstly, the gospel reminds us the complexity of the state of human beings. On the one hand, we are members of the Church, and on the other, we are citizens of the country. The Church has an obligation to us, the faithful, and the state too has an obligation to us, its citizens. We, Christians, have duties and responsibilities to the Church, and as citizens of the country, we also have duties and responsibilities to the state. In other words, a person has a twofold direction or concern: Church and state. But the teachings of the Church make it clear that a Christian should bring the gospel to every aspect of his/her life. Conflicts are a rarity. Most often, fulfilling the laws of the country does not contradict our following to God’s will.
Secondly, the gospel brings to the fore the question on the separation between the Church and the state. However, it should be noted that the separation between the Church and state is not absolute. At times, tensions can exist between our fidelity to God and our duty to the state. This happens when certain political issues run into conflict with religious questions, such as faith and morals.  In the Philippines, we have examples for these: the Reproductive Health bill and the extra-judicial killings. Some legislators were annoyed by the so-called Church interference in the political scene. But they should think that these issues are not only a political question, but more of a moral question. If the Church “intervenes,” it is because she has the duty to protect the well-being of the faithful, and to guide the faithful to a deeper truth. This is one matter that they should understand why the Church intervenes.
Thirdly, the gospel leads us to a deeper reflection on the relationship between Church and state. While we try to emphasize the separation between these two institutions, we cannot dismiss the fact that there are also instances where the two institutions meet, they complement each other. For example, providing shelter or housing to citizens is a primary responsibility of the state. But often some governments do not seem to make progress in its obligation. This prompted some leaders and organizations in the Church to provide housing for the homeless. We have heard of Gawad Kalinga, which is a housing project by a group of lay Catholics. While the government has also its program for the poor, the Church has also some projects which improve the lives of the poor. 
Again, a human person is both a citizen of the state, and a member of the Church. He has duties and obligations to both. And, thus, he shall also follow the words of Jesus in the gospel: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Amen.

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