repay to cesar what belongs to cesar and to God what belongs to God

once in a while, when someone finds out that i am a claretian missionary they ask, “what missions have your served?” if i am in a playful mood i respond, “i have served in one of our most dangerous missions in the world.” i would watch as their eyes light up a bit. then i would smile and say, “i used to be a pastor in south chicago.”

when we hear the word “missionary”, it can stir up images of jungle-like places with half clothed dark people who have no idea who jesus is. it is a caricature that is strong in our imaginations. i remember as a kid, looking at my parents’ maryknoll magazine and seeing such pictures of catholic priests in far off lands with brown and black people doing what looked to be good and happy things.

today is world mission sunday and we re-focus the need to be witnesses to God’s love in our baptismal call as daughters and sons of God. we support and pray for all with a special calling to live this out in dangerous and difficult situations around the world. asia, latin america, and africa have unique challenges in life; all of us are connected to our brothers and sisters who struggle in those contexts.

in our christian faith, we are all called to be “missionaries”– to continue the mission of jesus where we live and work. there are countless ways to unpack what this means for us individually and for us communally. inspired, led and guided by the Spirit, we are to love one another as a reflection of God’s love for us. in the example of jesus’ life, suffering death and resurrection, we dive into our world to be light. the gift of life is to be revered.

how each of us lives this out must be different. along the journey, we need to be reminded constantly of who we really are: sons and daughters of God. in this primary identity, our other loyalties ought to be examined.

in today’s gospel (matthew 22: 15-21), we read “repay to cesar what belongs to cesar. repay to God what belongs to God” the coin that jesus was looking at had the inscription of divus for Cesar: the emperor was divine. for the jews, even the use of this coin could be considered as idolatry. the recipients of jesus’ message are the pharisees/herodians. their goal was to trap jesus in his words not follow him. their loyalty was at best highly influenced by the roman powers and at worst was totally with the civil officials symbolized by cesar.

these are issues that we see today too. these teachings are highlighted all the more in the usa as we are weeks away from the general election. campaigning is hitting a crescendo now.

where is my loyalty right now? is it primarily to God or to something else? in being a citizen, am i more aligned to a particular political party or politician or my faith?

with the rise of nationalism all over the world and its expression of white supremacy here in the usa, the Spirit is stirring our hearts and minds with these questions. indeed idolatry is alive and kicking in 2020 and its effects are division, uncharitable acts and words towards one another, increased bigotry and hate. with an ultimate loyalty to one’s country, race love will never flourish. fear will motivate people’s behavior for the benefit of those in power.

a worrisome trend on social media is the arguments about the catholic faith. who is a good catholic? who must a catholic vote for? generally, it relates to the issue of abortion. at times, the tone is one of self righteousness in an effort to direct others to vote for a “pro life” candidate. the church’s teaching is that one must vote their conscience and no one ought to force another to vote a certain way. while the official teaching of the church is not to endorse a particular political part or person, there are some clerics who ignore this mandate. unfortunately, it is their videos that circulate the internet as the definitive voice of the catholic church.

in my opinion, they have sided with cesar and have been co-opted.

the catholic faith ought never go back to a neo-christendom where the faith is exploited for the state’s purpose and votes. the wedding of church and state in the middle ages shows us countless damaging effects of such a union. being one with the temporal powers allowed the killing of others in war to become part of our faith. unfortunately, there are many christians in the usa who desire a similar temporal power with such a union today: going back to this kind of faith is seen to make america great again. the heart of it seems to me an attempt to regain power lost. old lessons need to be relearned…

may each of us use our God-given gifts to worship and serve God alone. may the community of faith help us not fall in the temptation of primarily being loyal to political parties/persons. may our witness give life through the Spirit in love. may we give ourselves to the God of peace and may we repay to cesar a challenge to their abuse of power.


  1. DC says:

    Well thought out reasoning as to how we got to where we are as a Church in the midst of our situation. Keep preaching.


    1. frarthurcmf says:

      thanks DC! i am just a man doing what i can…
      keep shaping the minds of those young people toward the good true and beautiful


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