Every Christian Holds Dual Citizenship
In today’s gospel episode, Jesus is confronted by two groups and asked a potentially dangerous question. The Pharisees were religious leaders, who despised the Roman occupation and the pagan rule of Caesar. The Herodians were supporters of King Herod Antipas, who had been appointed by Rome to rule part of Israel. While Jews, they supported Rome.
Jesus is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he says paying the tax is right, he is in trouble with the Pharisees whereas if he says no to the tax, the Herodians would be after him.
Jesus saw through the trap and answered masterfully. Instead of ignoring or humiliating them, he taught them a lesson; a lesson as valid today as it was twenty centuries ago: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.
This reminds us that every Christian holds dual citizenship, and each citizenship has its own benefits and duties.
Our birth, or oath of citizenship, made us citizens of an earthly nation; our baptism made us citizens of a heavenly Kingdom.
Sometimes they overlap, but in the end, our earthly citizenship will finish, while our heavenly citizenship can last forever and is thus more important, provided we get there. If not, there is another place, called Hell, which also lasts forever.
Through the centuries, the many Christian martyrs have taught us that if we are ever forced to choose between the two, if ever Caesar tries to take what belongs to God, we must be faithful to our true, everlasting homeland, even if it means suffering.
I remember here St Thomas More, who rose to the highest office in the kingdom of England, but went to his death rather than agree with King Henry VIII’s claim to be head of the Church.
But we are reminded that, as far as possible, we need to live as good citizens of both this world and of heaven.
Let’s start with the duties of heavenly citizenship.
What exactly belongs to God?
All that we are, all that we possess, and all that we can hope for comes to us from God.
He called each one of us into existence; he wants each of us to exist, so that we can enter into and develop a personal relationship with him.
This is the whole purpose of our lives: to live in communion with God, starting now and leading into everlasting life.
And so, as citizens of heaven we are required to obey God’s commandments, follow the example of Christ, and heed the teachings of his Church.
Ignoring God and his commandments, as if he were far away, uninterested, or foolish is not being a good citizen of heaven.
The duties of our earthly citizenship are just as real, but not as lasting.
When God created us, he didn’t create us to be self-sufficient individuals.
Instead, he created us to be social, to need and enjoy the company and assistance of other human beings.
Human nature requires us to live in communities.
And so, for us to live our human lives to the full, we must be responsible members of the communities in which we live.
These communities come together to form civil society, and they provide us with many benefits: protection from crime, public services, and opportunities for personal and family development.
And so, it is our strict duty of justice to give back to society through obedience to good laws and active collaboration, like paying taxes and doing community service.
In this sense, patriotism is a virtue in which every Christian should excel; we should be most dependable and loyal citizens.
In democratic societies, where all the citizens participate directly in the political process, we have two responsibilities.
First, we have to make a decent effort to stay informed about the important issues facing the community – this will enable us to vote intelligently and responsibly.
This is not always as easy as it sounds, because not all issues are on the same level. There are foundational issues and secondary ones.
Treating unborn children like a commodity, as abortion does, is a foundational injustice. Marriage as a union of one man and one woman for life is also a foundational issue.
When we vote for political candidates and issues, we cannot pretend that those kinds of foundational issues are on the same level as other important but secondary issues like taxes, diplomacy, and alternative energy sources.
These secondary issues are like the walls of a house: you can knock out a wall or rearrange a room without the house falling down, but if you mess with the foundation, you lose the whole structure.
If foundational issues are at stake in an election, we must give them first priority.
Foundational issues are things that belong to God, not to Caesar, and when Caesar tries to take them over, we who are God’s children must defend them.
In conclusion, we must be willing to ‘stand up and be counted’ on these foundational issues and explain our Catholic standpoint whenever we can.
We are God’s messengers; we have something important – something crucial – to contribute to these conversations!
The great Anglican political thinker Edmund Burke once said, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
In our democratic country, let’s give to God what belongs to God and nothing less, and give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and nothing more.
Let’s do so today in this Mass, tomorrow at the office or in the classroom, and every day thereafter.