Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week continues

On Passion Sunday we celebrated and commemorated Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Of course, as he rode into the city through the gate called Beautiful, He was hailed as Israel's long-awaited Messiah. This made many of the Jewish leaders nervous and even scared. Matthew's Gospel tells us, "And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, 'Who is this?' And the crowds replied, 'This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.'" (21:10-11) It is easy to lose the thread of the narrative, however. From that day until His betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion, He taught in the Temple daily.

His first act, of course, was to cleanse to the Temple, which, at least in Matthew's account, occurs upon His entering the holy city. His week in Jerusalem continues with a whole series of very challenging teachings that challenge the religious authorities, who repeatedly test Him in an effort to trip Him up. Given the overheated political moment we are experiencing here in the U.S. let's look at one such instance that is very relevant:

Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, 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. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away. (Matt. 22:15-22)

St. Justin Martyr, the great second century philosopher and Christian apologist wrote, concerning this very passage:
And everywhere we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Him; for at that time some came to Him and asked Him, if one ought to pay tribute to Cæsar; and He answered, "Tell Me, whose image does the coin bear?" And they said, "Cæsar's." And again He answered them, "Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's." Whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment. But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we shall suffer no loss, since we believe (or rather, indeed, are persuaded) that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merit of his deed, and will render account according to the power he has received from God, as Christ intimated when He said, "To whom God has given more, of him shall more be required." Luke 12:48 (First Apology, chapter 17)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Prepare ye the way for the kingdom


  1. Dcn. Scott, based on "to whom God has given more, of him shall more be required" do you think then that the tax cut for the wealthy should expire?

  2. Dear Shireen:

    When dealing with Scripture it is important to keep it in context. In the passage you mention, which comes from Luke 12:35-48, Jesus is talking specifically to His disciples and how it is requisite for those who know and follow Him to be faithful to the call they have received and not grow weary waiting for Him. Certainly one of the ways we do this is by generously helping the poor, whom Jesus says will always be with us. We will certainly be judged on how we respond to their need. (see Matthew 25:31-46) The church must be careful, however, and not be content to subcontract this out wholly to the government, thus relieving us of our personal responsibility that flows from Jesus' call to personal discipleship.

    So, we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. But even in rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's, we work for justice, fairness, and exercise what the Church in her teaching calls the preferential option for the poor. Church social teaching is about maintaining what the dialectical tension between solidarity and subsidiarity.

    As far as my opinion concerning the so-called Bush tax cuts, I agree with Pres Obama. I am in favor of keeping the cuts in place for people who make up to $250,000 because this is the maximum level at which economic analysis tells us we achieve a measurable economic stimulus. After all, we do not want to put drags on economic growth and job creation. So, I favor letting the cuts expire in 2012 for people who make more than $250,000 In my opinion, this would achieve a better balance between cost-cutting and the revenue necessary to fund the gov't, preserving needed and wanted programs.

    I also think we need to sensitive about how this impacts many small business owners, who kind of get caught in no man’s land in this scenario.

    I hope that answers your question.

  3. Yes, very helpful. Given the responsibility to the poor, do you think it is difficult to reconcile being a good Christian and acquiring great worldly wealth? Or can these two facts coexist together in a moral fashion?

  4. As Jesus himself said- "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25) So, yes, I think it is difficult. In the end, I do believe a person can be wealthy and be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I have the privilege of knowing several wealthy people who are truly some of the most generous, giving people I know, who give not just from their surplus wealth, but who give sacrificially, not only money, but their time and talents for the building of God's kingdom.

    At the end of the day we are to do all for God's kingdom, whether we are corporate CEOs, successful lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, or we do something much more humble, like be a policeman, a school teacher, take care of the city parks, or whatever. I don't believe wealth should be pursued for the sake of wealth. Quite a few of the wealthy people I know did not intentionally set out to be wealthy, but were successful in their pursuits at which they worked hard. As long as the pursuit is honest, success need not be shunned, but put to work in the service God and God's kingdom.

    To pick just one example- look at Mark Wahlberg, one of Hollywood's most bankable actors. He attends daily Mass, sees to the catechesis of his children, has a sound stable marriage, and speaks openly about his faith. He strikes me as a pretty humble guy. Of course, there was a time he was not. He underwent something of a personal conversion about some 10 years ago.


A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left ...