THE POOR ARE GOD’S
Behind Jesus’ back, the Pharisees reach an agreement to prepare a decisive trap for him. They themselves won’t come to meet with him. They send some of their disciples, along with some party members of Herod Antipas. Perhaps some powerful Roman tax-collectors will be among them.
The trap is well thought out: «Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?». If he answers negatively, they will be able to accuse him of rebellion against Rome. If he justifies the payment of tribute, he will end up discredited by those poor farmers who are oppressed by those taxes, those he loves and defends with his whole might.
Jesus’ answer has been summarized in a concise manner throughout the centuries in these terms: «Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s». Few of Jesus’ words have been cited as much as these. And none, perhaps, more distorted and manipulated by interests very far from those of the Prophet, the defender of the poor.
Jesus isn’t thinking of God and of Rome’s Caesar as two powers that can demand, one from another in their respective spheres, their rights to their subjects. Like any faithful Jew, Jesus knows that to God «belongs the earth and all that is contains, the world and all its inhabitants» (Ps. 24). What could be of Caesar that isn’t of God? Aren’t the subjects of the emperor, sons and daughters of God.
Jesus doesn’t bother about the different positions that the Herodians, the Sadducees or the Pharisees presented in that society concerning the tributes to Rome and their significance: if they are carrying «the money of the tax» in their pockets, then they should fulfill those obligations. But he doesn’t live in service to the Roman Empire, but opens paths to God’s Reign and God’s justice.
That’s why he reminds them about something that no one has questioned him about: «Give to God what belongs to God». That’s to say, give to no Caesar what is only of God: the life of God’s sons and daughters. As he has repeated over and over to his followers: the poor are God’s, the little ones are special to God, God’s Reign belongs to them. No one should abuse them.
We must not sacrifice people’s life, dignity or happiness to any power. And surely today no power sacrifices more lives and causes more suffering, hunger and destruction than that «tyranny of an economy without face and without truly human objective» that, according to Pope Francis, the powerful of the earth have succeeded in imposing. We can’t remain passive and indifferent, stifling the voice of our consciences in the practice of religion.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf