“Repay to Caesar What Belongs to Caesar and to God What Belongs to God”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
When speaking of justice, we often focus more on social justice which means that all people without any form of discrimination should receive fair treatment and have equal benefits and opportunities in achieving their dreams in society.
In order to ensure and restore social justice other types of justice have been established such as retributive justice that includes legal enforcement with imprisonment, labor camp and even death penalty.
It seems that social justice still remains a hard work for all people to accomplish. It is by no way because the implementation of the legal measures are not strict enough in defending the innocent and punishing the criminals.
We witness the sad reality that social justice is meant only for the politically and economically powerful. Kangaroo court in totalitarian regimes is just a convincing proof of the failure of human social justice where the offended—the scape-goats—take all the responsibilities for the wrongdoings of their offenders.
This Sunday Gospel gives us the most meaningful and effective type of justice which is rightly coined as Christian justice for it was taught and practiced by Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior of the world.
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, in fact, means something much greater and deeper than just social justice.
First, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” confirms the truth that with regard to whom justice should be rendered there are two different orders of ownership: one is God’s, the other is Caesar’s.
On the one hand, “Caesar” stands for those responsible for the common good of people in society, or the secular authority, or the State. They who come to power by democratic and honest way, through fair elections for instance, enjoy their legitimate authority to fulfill their calling. This means that they have received from God the mandate of serving peace and order. Saint Paul admonishes Christians to obey legitimate secular authority, saying “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.”
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” clearly and strongly discourages those who have illegally and dishonestly seized power against the will of the people and the assignment of God. They are simply “thieves and robbers” who come “only to steal and slaughter and destroy.”
We Christians are by no means obliged to obey those evil shepherds but on the contrary we are bound by our Christian faith and moral standard to tell—sometimes, in case of necessity, but in a peaceful way, to force—them to render justice to God and the people: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”.
Secondly, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” means above all that God’s absolute and supreme authority and power should be recognized and honored. God is always the Creator of this world. He is the owner of His creation. He is the master of history. He is the loving caring Father of all of us, human beings. He is the judge of the living and the dead, yet He is slow to anger and quick to mercy and bounder less in forgiveness. Saint James strongly defends God’s authority as the only lawmaker, saying “There is one lawgiver and judge Who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?”
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” becomes more urgent than ever when we Christians celebrate Mission Sunday today to pray for the preaching of Gospel values, that of Christian justice included, to a world seriously torn by all forms of injustices.
Let us start the missionary journey by putting into practice Christ’s teaching “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” right now and here, in our families, communities and countries. Amen.
Fr. Francis Nguyen Van Nhut, O.P.