HOMILY 29th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
TAXES: CHURCH AND STATE? ENTRAPMENT TOO!
There’s no doubt that the Romans did a good job in many ways maintaining order within the Empire. The Roman roads were extensive, and the aqueducts were a big improvement in providing a water supply to citizens. There was a healthy approach to sanitation too! And let’s not forget the wine as well! Roman Law was based on justice and truth to a fair degree, even if we know that law can be abused, in terms of twisting it to suit one’s own purposes, particularly in favour of the more powerful party. Nor could it be said women were granted much of a go, with it being a man’s world out there back then, particularly when it came to marriage! The woman was seen very much as subject to male dominance and more a possession than equal partner. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Roman Law had much going for it, and Canon Law of the Roman Church was, and remains, very much influenced by it.
And what is very clear throughout the Gospels, is that Jesus, in his public ministry, never advocated civil insurrection against the ruling powers, nor any sort of violence physically inflicted. His challenges to authority were verbal, and directed primarily at the religious leaders of the day, many of whom were out to get him, at which they succeeded in the end. But this was only in his own good time, and after he had established the groundwork for the foundations of Christianity, not as a state religion, but as a way of living a fulfilling life as a faithful follower of Jesus.
Even today, in civil law, entrapment is considered a crime, where an agent of the state induces an innocent person to commit a crime with the intention of prosecution or charging that person with the offence. Here we have Jesus being faced with getting into trouble with the state if he speaks against paying the Roman tax, and with the religious orthodoxy if he speaks against his questioners about the temple tax. He sees straight through them once again, and provides a balanced response, really about the separation of religious belief and practice, and responsibility to the State.
Don’t we see in today’s world the complications and contradictions where religion is tied up with government of civil society? The theocratic state is oppressive and intolerant of dissidents and non-conformists, and it is just not right or reasonable to impose faith. In the end, we have to make our own informed decisions. Sometimes we hear people saying baptism shouldn’t be imposed, but the choice left up to the individual at a later stage. Whatever about that, baptism doesn’t predetermine a later decision to practise that faith, does it?
What we can’t question is that the teachings of Jesus provide a framework for living a loving, good, tolerant and peaceful life, in harmony with each other and with nature, the birds of the air the flowers of the field! Pope Francis himself constantly reminds us of this too, apart from it all being good common sense!
And yet we see the ongoing hostilities in our world, with inhumanity and lack of respect for human life reflected in the conflicts. It is frightening to see the Russian Orthodox Patriarch defending the invasion of Ukraine. Then there are the atrocities committed by Hamas in Israel, prompting calls for revenge, understandable in some ways, but with innocent civilians on both sides caught up in it all, through no fault of their own and having no choice. We can only hope calls for peace and moderation are heard. And no-one can deny the right to self-defence and protection of the innocent. We wonder where and when it will end.
In today’s Gospel, there are the Herodians and the Pharisees, the former being less a threat to Jesus than the latter, as he was respectful towards, and accepting of the norms of civilized society. It was more the religious leaders who wanted to catch him out, by paying tribute to Caesar over God, pretending to flatter him by saying how honest he was and didn’t consider anyone’s position in society and more important than anyone else’s, with no deference a person’s rank or role.
Life goes on in a world where we hope for more love, understanding and tolerance rather than conflict and hatred, but we can only do our best in applying the values proclaimed by Jesus to our own lives, and lead others to do the same. One thing Jesus attacks relentlessly is the hypocrisy and superior attitudes of those who pretend to be important and self-righteous, giving others a hard time, when their hearts are far from their words of orthodoxy and criticism of ordinary people. Mercy and forgiveness are just not in their vocabulary. Genuine faith is to be lived in action, not just stated in theology and theory.
Michael Leunig has an insightful, if dark, Prayer to reflect on: “Guns and bombs, cruelty, hate. Money, greed and real estate. Madness, power. Sick ideas. Them and us and wild fears. Twisted hearts and broken souls. Mangled lives and bullet holes. Anger, vengeance, endless pain. The loneliness of being sane.” To me, this is a reminder of our need to persevere with being positive and hopeful, by doing our bit to bring peace, love and harmony into our own lives, and the lives of others by living the Gospel of Jesus well.
It’s a challenging world, and we can’t deny we are fortunate to be where we are, whatever our problems might be. This weekend there is Caritas Australia Gaza Crisis Appeal to think of supporting. As well, it is Catholic Mission weekend, which reminds us to look beyond our own comfort zones, and so to support the work of those who are evangelizing in different parts of the world, bringing the Gospel to people to need practical support in living better lives and seeing the message of Jesus as one to which commitment brings fulfilment and happiness and peace. The needs are endless!
john hannon 22nd October 2023