“Is it permissible to pay taxes to Ceaser or not?” the Pharisees and the Herodians asked Jesus in this Sunday’s reading from the gospel according to Matthew. Jesus replied: “Give back to Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser – and to God what belongs to God!” The Roman emperor, whole image was engraved on the coins used in Palestine, represented the government that had conquered the land. Many Jews felt that paying taxes to the Roman government was like a betrayal of their own country. Jesus advocates the payment of taxes and obedience to the legitimate authority, as long as we also give God what carries his image.
In 1923, Joseph De Piro printed an article about obedience to authority, in his almanac. Although the main aim of this annual was missionary animation, De Piro considered this topic to be quite relevant, and included it this publication. De Piro pointed out that “… this principle (respect towards authority) is put aside and forgotten, by most, if not by everyone.”
‘Give back to Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser’ (Matthew 22:21).
In Saint Matthew’s gospel, we read that once the Pharisees approached Jesus to ask him whether they should be paying taxes to Caesar or not. They thought that they had put him in a tight corner from which he could not escape. They thought to themselves, if he answers yes, he will lose the respect of the people who saw Roman rule as foreign to them and, he would be pronouncing himself a traitor of his country. If he answered in the negative, he would be declaring himself an enemy of the Romans. Therefore, whichever way he answered, he would be making enemies either with the Jews or with the king. What did Jesus do? Did he avoid the question so as not to make enemies? No! Without worrying about how people would feel about his words, he pronounced these words, which are very salutary to peoples and nations: Give back to Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser – and to God what belongs to God (Mt 22:21).
This response teaches us to respect, and stay under the power that rules us.
This inspiring teaching, while inviting people to respect and submit to the power of this world, elevates them, teaching them also to honour God. We can see this in the words of our father Saint Paul, “all power comes through God.” The earthly king is only an ambassador of the heavenly king. In the letter to Timothy, our father St. Paul asks us to pray for them, because they are sent by God to lead us, and to care for us, not only in temporal things but also in things which lead us to eternal life (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-3).
Jesus was not satisfied to teach us only by word; he also wanted to teach us to respect authority by his example. He was born in a manger, to obey the vain command of the emperor. He died suspended on the cross, without protesting against his false sentence. He performed a miracle, to teach us that we must be very careful to avoid any bad example in this matter. After explaining that he had no duty to pay the temple tax, he told the apostle Peter, “So that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin (Jewish money). Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours” (Mt 17:27).
We should behave this way toward these who govern us; we should always follow the teaching and the examples of Our Divine Master. Our words and actions should always be guided by the great principle of respect and honour towards authority. It seems that in our times this principle is often set aside and forgotten, by most, if not by everyone.”