Selection of the sermons of Father Ezekiel Oko

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Sermon for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the reading year: B

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God (Matt. 22:21)

Today, on World Mission Sunday, we should emphasize everything that contributes to the success of the mission. We are called to bring the spirit of the gospel to bear in society throughout the world. All commitment, all contributions and attitudes that support this task are then a correct response to the gospel.

In this context, I would like to relate this sermon to Jesus' command in today's Gospel: "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mt 22:21).

I became aware of this verse in the first few days after my conversion to Christianity. I was converted from natural religion to Christianity, baptized at the age of 14 and wanted to reject everything that had to do with natural and traditional religion. Then my father, who was not yet a Christian at the time, always told me: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

That seemed to be the only Bible verse he knew, but with it he advised me to help him with his 'church service', church service in the spirit of natural religion. He wanted to teach me that being a Christian does not mean that I should henceforth be an opponent of natural religion. Since then, I have never forgotten this verse.

Maybe you have also had your own experience with this Bible verse. The question is: What did Jesus mean by his answer?

This astonishing answer of Jesus to the Pharisees' question about loyalty and tax payment to the emperor is not only ingenious, but also of importance for the relationship between church and state in the Christian West that can hardly be overestimated.

It is, of course, clear to see that in the situation in which Jesus gives this advice, those who held political power represented the emperor. With his answer, Jesus advises us to obey the rulers of society, but only to the extent that this does not contradict our service to God.

Even if the coin bears the image of the emperor and therefore belongs to the emperor, man is also the image of God; therefore man belongs to God. The service that we as Christians render to the state should not contradict our dignity as human beings (or the dignity of our fellow human beings).

When we maintain our human dignity as the image of God and help others to maintain their dignity as the image of God, we thereby give to God what belongs to Him. We must therefore refuse to obey the state when it asks us to contradict our human dignity.

As already said, we as Christians are tasked with bringing the spirit of the Gospel to bear and bringing it into politics and society in order to promote humane, people-friendly and creation-friendly shaping of earthly concerns. And we are called upon to raise objections when laws condone injustice, disadvantage the poor, promote injustice or even allow killing, such as that of the unborn.

Christianity has always practiced loyalty to governments of all kinds, including non-Christian or even un-Christian governments. This is expressed not least through prayer for those in power. However, loyalty was and is never unconditional.

The limit is reached when a state does injustice or even demands injustice. Then the sentence from Acts applies: We must obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19). This means that the state must not be the standard for our actions as Christians, but rather Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus' answer: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" is not only about the relationship between church and state, or the believer and the state, but also conveys the strategy who Jesus conveyed his message - the message of love - beyond all group restrictions.

His message builds bridges between groups, countries, denominations, and people of different opinions, etc., because this message recognizes goodness no matter where it finds it. It helps us decide how we can act in a situation where denominations, cultures, or even opinions differ, without compromising the core of our faith as Christians.

Jesus tells us today to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar without denying God what belongs to God. We can practice this strategy in many situations in our lives.

When opinions differ, we should not ask, “Is he in my group?” but, “Is there truth or good in his opinion?” In a situation where different opinions are involved, we should not ask : “Who says what?”, but rather: “Where is the truth?”, “What promotes the good and dignity of people?” and “How can I best protect and help not only myself, but also my fellow human beings? “

Dear sisters and brothers, we absolutely need this balance, this attitude as we travel with the message of Jesus Christ. Because it promotes the success of the Gospel and supports the mission when we as Christians recognize and approve of good, no matter where we find it, and have the courage to fight injustice.

Gospel of 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time in the reading year B;