• Fr. Mastroeni

Caesar or God

Updated: May 24, 2018



The leaders of the Jews were plotting to kill Jesus because he was claiming to be the Son of God. To accomplish this, two opposing groups begin to join each other to bring him down.


The Herodians backed the Roman occupiers, as well as paying the tax, because they wanted to keep the cruel and maniacal Herod, the puppet of the Romans, as their ruler.


The Pharisees were enemies of the Herodians, resented paying the tax, but not surprisingly joined with their adversaries in order to destroy Jesus.


And so in order to trip him up they pose their question: “Is it lawful to pay the tax to the emperor or not?”But before doing so, they flatter him before posing their question to trip him up: ‘Master, we know you are a truthful man, sincere and not given to human respect…’ While it is the truth, they mean none of it and Jesus knows it, that is why before he answers, he calls them, “hypocrites.”

This is a dilemma our Lord is faced with: If he agrees with the Pharisees and the majority of the people who found paying taxes to the Romans repulsive and said “No, don’t pay it”, he would be arrested and tried for treason against Rome.


Instead, if he agrees with the Herodians who gladly paid the tax, he will alienate all those who have followed him, and discredit himself in their eyes.


So what does he do? He takes the coin, the currency of the time, and asks ,”Whose image is on it?” The coin, called a denarius, was made of silver, and minted by the Romans with the stamped image of the emperor. “Whose image is on the coin? …Then give to Caesar…” There is much implied in that response:


Historically, the Romans did not conquer the Jewish people by force of arms. They were invited in to quell the bloody anarchy, which left unchecked would have destroyed everything.

Since then the Jews had continued to enjoy peace and the protection of the Roman legions from hostile neighbors. They enjoyed the justice of Caesar’s courts; the roads and aqueducts the Romans built for them. They enjoyed the economic prosperity that came with being a protectorate of the Roman Empire. It was only right that they should pay their fair share to continue enjoying all these benefits which did not come with a free lunch.


And thus the 4th Commandment which obliges us to “honor our father and mother” requires us also to respect all lawful authority. There is an obligation arising from Justice for citizens, enjoying the benefits of a just social order, to pay a just tax. But what is a “just tax”?


A tax is just when equitably levied. If it happens that 50% of the people do not pay any taxes, and the other 50% who work hard pay all the taxes, and more than their share, to compensate for others who do not, then the tax can be considered unjust.


When a government taxes a good third or more of what the people earn, then people rightly can ask, ‘why should I have to work at all?’


When the corporate tax is over 1/3 and among the highest in the entire world, people can rightly ask why should I risk my savings to start anything?


The tax is also unjust when the public’s money is used to pay for things that are corrupt or wasteful—like bailing out companies that are going bankrupt just because the shareholders are either members of the ruling political party or contribute heavily to it.


Or worse yet, it the tax is unjust when millions are used to pay for things that are immoral like abortions, or used to subsidize, International Planned Parenthood, 91% of whose services are abortion related making it the largest abortion provider world-wide. Many would rightly ask, “why should give to hell what rightly belongs to me?”


What else does the 4th Commandment oblige besides the paying of just taxes? It commands us to be prepared to protect a just State by military service, especially at times of unlawful hostile aggression.


Just as the 4th Commandment requires us to acquire the virtue of piety which inclines us to have love and affection for our parents and family, so too it calls us to civic virtue of patriotism, which is the bond of affection that one should have for one’s own native land, to respect its national symbols, like the flag and its anthems.


Then Jesus gives the second part of that teaching: “…but give to God what belongs to God.” And what belongs to God is far more impressive. We owe everything to God: creation, existence, our life, my body and soul, family, children, talents or gifts of mind or body. In short, everything. The image that is imprinted on this coin—i.e. the coin of the human person—is the image of God. And God as our Creator and Redeemer, claims an absolute sovereignty over me that no State can claim. In fact it is this very truth that historically has always limited the power the State.


The State is not the source of its own power. If it were, the state’s power would self-inflate, and eventually in time self-implode. Political power, as recent history has shown, has a voracious appetite, and can only be limited and controlled by the rule of law which recognizes a higher law—the Natural Moral Law, the Divine Eternal Law.


The dangers of big government should be obvious. Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding Fathers, warned: “”A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have…” The more you give to Caesar what belongs to you, the more Caesar will take, and then its only a matter of time when Caesar will take what rightly belongs to God.


The next time you have a dime in your hands take the time to look at it. On one side it says, “United State of America” with the motto, “E pluribus unum”from the many, one. Though we are many, we are one. On the other side you will see why we are one nation: there is the word, “Liberty”, and just beneath it the name of Him Who gave us liberty [conceived in his image and likeness] and insures and protects our liberty: “In God we trust”.


Imagine the State as a huge wheel. The hub is God. We are the spokes. The closer we come to the hub, that is, God, the closer the spokes get to each other, the more united are the citizens. Take away the hub and all the spokes fall apart.


When we give to God what belongs to God, we are strengthening the state because the State cannot long exist without God. The ancient Greeks knew that self-government was not self-perpetuating. It needs that the majority of its citizens are virtuous. And you cannot have virtuous citizens without their acknowledgement that there is a higher power, and a higher law than the law of their own disordered appetites.


Give to God what is God’s and Caesar will necessarily get what belongs to Caesar.


For good reason we affirm in our pledge, “One nation under God.”

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Fr. Anthony J. Mastroeni, S.Th.D., J.D.

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©2018 By Father Mastroeni, S.Th.D., J.D.

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