IN THIS Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21), Jesus teaches us about authority and accountability – civil and spiritual. It is on this part of the Bible where we see the familiar words of the Lord, “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
Asked maliciously by the disciples of the Pharisees whether it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not, Jesus requested that he be handed a Roman coin that is used to pay the said tax. He then asked his inquirers, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” to which they answered, “Caesar’s.” It is at that instant that he said the famous words, repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The payment of the census tax was a consequence of the Israelite people’s subjugation to the Roman Empire at that time. Being under the political authority of Rome they were duty-bound to follow the orders of the emperor. One such duty was the payment of taxes, and if only to emphasize the power of the empire to tax, the Roman economic system made use of money that bore both the inscription and image of the highest official, the emperor.
Jesus used this teachable moment to explain a still higher type of authority and accountability – that which is spiritual. From his statement can be deciphered the message that just as the Roman coin bore the image of the emperor to whom the Israelites should be politically accountable, so do they, and all human beings for that matter, bear the image of God to whom we should all be spiritually accountable. The words of Genesis 1:27 come to mind, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Accountability to God, however, is supreme over any other accountabilities because God is the Supreme Authority. Romans 13:1 tells us that “all authority comes from God, and those that exist have been established by God.” God uses all temporal authority of men, even of leaders like Cyrus in the First Reading (Isaiah 45:1; 4-6), to accomplish his purpose, and as the responsorial psalm puts it, to “give the Lord glory and honor.”
Jesus is our true king. He is “far above every principality, authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21). “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).”
May the name of Jesus be praised forever.