Today’s readings have to do with authority which is God given and allegiance.
In the first reading, we read about Cyrus who God anointed to be king. His task was to restore the Israelites who wandered far off especially after being exiled. With this restoration, Jerusalem would be new again. This reading tells us that all legitimate authority comes from God. Jesus reminds us of this in John 19:11. St. Paul also reminds the Romans that their governmental authority is instituted by God Romans 13:1.
The catechism explains what authority means and when it is lost:
1897 “Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.”15
By “authority” one means the quality by virtue of which persons or institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.
1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.
1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”17
1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.
Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities:18 “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.”19
1901 If authority belongs to the order established by God, “the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.”20
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.
1902 Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a “moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility”:21
A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence.22
1903 Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, “authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.”23
1904 “It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the ‘rule of law,’ in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men.”24
Governments must always keep God in mind or they will collapse. This is why governments that have pushed God and morals aside do not last long. It is God who gives people the authority to rule over others. So a nation may be of the people, by the people, for the people; but ordained by God. If God takes away the authority given, then the government will dissipate regardless of the people.
The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading by calling on us to give God glory and honor. It goes on to remind us that God is “awesome and beyond all gods.” Everything belongs to God. Nations exist because of God. Peoples exists because of God. We must honor and praise Him. Thank Him for allowing us to live another day in His love and mercy. This Psalm is directly connected to the Gospel.
In the second reading, a message is given to the church of the Thessalonians. Paul, Silvanus and Timothy remind this particular church that they are praying for them and remind them that they must work in faith and love. This faith and love must endure in hope in Jesus Christ. They remind the Thessalonians that God chose them. Here we are reminded that God is the one who institutes and gives existence to a collective; in this case, the church of the Thessalonians. The flock here is reminded that the Gospel they received was not only via word, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel are merely words to human beings, but with the Holy Spirit, they come alive in our daily lives. We become the Gospel (Romans 1:17)! It is not just a collection of readings that we read at home or at Mass.
Lastly, in the Gospel we are told that the Pharisees try to entrap Jesus with their sophism. These scholarly men thought they could outsmart a mere carpenter who claimed to be the Messiah. They begin their test by recalling status. This shows that the Pharisees were concerned with status or roles of power. Religion to them became a self serving pillar of power and authority, not a process of conversion to holiness. The Pharisees try to make Jesus stumble in His reasoning by proposing a false dilemma. They say that Jesus does not care for a person’s status. Since He does not, they ask; “do people have to pay taxes to Caesar or the Roman government?” This was also a way to try to instigate and show that Jesus was somehow a rebel or anarchist looking to overthrow the Roman empire. Jesus turns it around by saying that since the coins used to pay Caesar have his image, then those coins must be given back to him. However, what belongs to God must be given to God.
Here we see that Jesus does not give them the answer that they were trying to get from Him; namely that He was some anarchist looking to start trouble and overthrow the government. Jesus instead, gives respect to the Roman empire even though it was oppressing the Jews and was not known for mercy. However, He also makes it clear that what belongs to God is to be returned to God. We all are made in God’s image, so we all belong to Him (Genesis 1:27). Because of this, we have to remember who we are supposed to have allegiance too: God. Governments come and go as God desires. When governments turn against God, we must not follow suit.
In light that we are made in the image of God and belong to Him, it really does not make sense for atheists to describe God as “evil.” Atheists often call God evil because of the flood, destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah and the many times God punished people. They call God a “mass murderer.” Do you see the problem with this argument? How can something that was made by someone else and is owned by someone else call the owner evil for disposing of it? God can take back the lives He gave because they belong to Him! This is not murder. Murder entails an action that can only be committed by a human to another human. We do not call killing a chicken murder for this reason. The word does not apply here.
Our complete allegiance is to God only. This is why today’s Psalm is linked to this Gospel. We are to give honor and glory to God because we belong to God, not Caesar. Moreover, we must respect those in power even if they institute crazy laws. Today, many governments have laws allowing abortion, euthanasia, same sex marriage etc. We are called to protest these ideas, but our mission is not that. Our mission is to preach the Gospel and transform hearts in Jesus Christ. This is why both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI stressed that we must not become a Church of “no” or a Church caught up in social discussions. The meaning of Christianity is lost when we are only focused on social issues. God will take care of governments who institute immoral laws. Rome was once the mighty empire. It instituted same sex marriage, had a major recession, promoted secularism, they used contraception and even had abortion! Sound familiar? Not much has changed in humanity. Where is Rome now? Where is Caesar? His images are now in museums and the coins with his image are worth nothing in today’s global economy. However, those with the image of God are still alive and well 2,000 + years later in the Catholic Church.