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A Christian’s Dual Citizenship
Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him.
Opening Prayer: Lord, I know that, as today’s Psalm says, “Before the mountains were begotten, you are God…In every age you have been our refuge.” I believe that you are here present with me now, eagerly and lovingly wanting to give me your light and grace. I need that light—it is so hard to see my way, sometimes. I need that grace—on my own, I can do so little. I open my mind and heart to you, Lord: Bless this time together for your glory, for the good of my soul, and for the progress of your eternal Kingdom.
- Resistance to Jesus: From the Jewish perspective at the time of Jesus, Roman rule over Israel was an unlawful rule. The Roman occupiers were a hostile, conquering force. And so paying Caesar’s tax was, in a certain sense, collaborating with the enemy and betraying the Jewish nation. By asking Jesus about this thorny issue, the Jewish leaders were setting a trap for him: if he told them to pay the tax, he would lose his status as an authentic religious leader for the Jewish people, so his popularity would decline; if he told them not to pay the tax, he would become a political revolutionary subject to Roman legal punishments. Either way, Our Lord’s enemies thought Jesus’s influence would be severely damaged. How often we fallen human beings set traps for each other! How blind we can be!
- Jesus’s Shocking Wisdom: But Jesus avoids their snares. He pointed out the fallacy underlying their whole mentality. For the Pharisees and Herodians, only one citizenship was possible: You were either an Israelite or a Roman. They had too worldly a view of their spiritual identity. Jesus pointed out a fundamental difference between kingdoms of this world and his eternal Kingdom when he told his attackers to “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” As Christians, we can be joyful, constructive citizens of this passing world, and at the same time have our true and lasting citizenship in heaven. Jesus shows us that our lives here on earth are passing; we are pilgrims on our way to our true home in heaven. We don’t have to try and create heaven on earth. We can accept the limitations and challenges of earthly life as the providential pathway towards growth in grace while we, as St. Peter puts it in the first reading, “await the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). What a gift Jesus has given us by revealing that through our friendship with him we have a destination that transcends this world! How much peace that truth can bring to our hearts, if only we truly absorb it!
- The Clash of Two Kingdoms: At times, earthly kingdoms (or earthly rulers) become jealous of Jesus and his eternal Kingdom. When that happens, the Caesars of this world pass unjust laws, refusing to accept the natural moral law that God built into human nature. They try to reinvent moral or religious truth. Totalitarian regimes do this by denying certain races or groups their fundamental rights. Our post-Christian society is doing it by trying to redefine basic realities like human dignity and the nature of marriage. Ancient Rome did it by requiring all citizens to participate in pagan worship. When Christians refused to do that, they were imprisoned, enslaved, or executed as enemies of the State. That’s what happened to the martyrs commemorated by the Church today, saints Marcellinus and Peter. Marcellinus was a priest in Rome and Peter was an exorcist there. They were rounded up during the famous persecution under the emperor Diocletian. In prison awaiting their trial, they strengthened the faith of other Christians fearing for their lives, and even converted the jail keeper. Refusing to worship any gods but the true God, Jesus, they were condemned and beheaded as traitors to Rome. They exhibited so much peace and courage, and even joy, throughout their ordeal that their executioner was deeply moved and eventually became a Christian himself. Yes, as Christians we are dual citizens, having citizenship here on earth and also in heaven. But our primary citizenship is the heavenly one, because only that Kingdom will last forever. If ever earthly rulers overstep their bounds and try to coerce us into compromising our loyalty to that Kingdom, God will strengthen us to be as faithful to him as he has been to us.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, I want to treasure the gift you have given me by my baptism, that gift of being a true child of God, your friend and brother, with a home in the Father’s house in heaven. I firmly believe that my life here on earth is just a pilgrimage leading there. I want to live this earthly life well, honorably, virtuously, responsibly—but please never let me become so attached to earthly glory and comfort that I abandon you. I want to be faithful to your teaching, to the faith I have received through the heroic witness of my older brothers and sisters like saints Marcellinus and Peter. Strengthen me, Lord, as you strengthened them, and make my life a powerful witness to the truth of your goodness, wisdom, and grace.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will be calm and confident if my faith is challenged. I will not be afraid to speak out about the teachings of the Church, the teachings that lead us along the path of everlasting life. And I will not be surprised when being faithful is demanding or costly in some way. I will never hide the fact that I belong to Christ, that I am a Christian.
For Further Reflection: Pray the Prayer of Dedication of the Human Race to Christ the King.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC