Thursday, July 4, 2024



Knowing their malice, Jesus answered the Pharisees, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
Matthew 22:15-21

We are always reading about the ongoing battle between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day. Since Jesus was very popular among the ordinary people on the streets, these religious leaders could not attack him directly so they resorted to trying to trap him in his speech so that they could have something to accuse him of should there be a heresy or sedition trial. It's sort of like the old “loaded question” joke where a person asks, "Do you still beat your husband?" If you say "yes," you are doomed for agreeing that you do beat your husband! If you say "no," you are doomed because you have just admitted that you used to beat him previously!  You are trapped in your own speech no matter how you answer! 

This week, they thought that they had Jesus cornered. First, they schmoozed him with false flattery to get him to open up. “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They then asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. They thought they had boxed in with a clever “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” dilemma. If he said “Yes, it is lawful” he would offend and lose his followers who hated Caesar and his taxes, but if he said “no it is not lawful” then the Roman government would come after him for sedition.   Jesus outsmarted their trickery by answering, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s!”  

I may have worked for the Church all my adult life where I was expected to give God and his people my best, but what many Catholics do not know is the fact that I am not tax exempt as far as the government is concerned! I have had to give to Caesar like many of you - in fact at a higher rate than some of you! You may not know it, but tax-wise diocesan priests are considered "self-employed." That means that the Church does not pay half of my 12.4% social security taxes. I pay the whole 12.4% as well as the 2.9% standard Medicare taxes, income taxes and I am expected to donate to the church, the annual Catholic Services Appeal and other charities. When I was working at St. Meinrad, Bellarmine and the Archdiocese, I was paying Spencer County and Indiana state taxes, Kentucky state taxes, Jefferson County taxes, Louisville City taxes, United States income taxes. In other words, the Church may be tax-exempt, but we diocesan priests are certainly not! I would say with confidence that I have followed the direction of Jesus in today's gospel as far as "giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" and I have felt happy and privileged to do it! 

One of the things that Jesus seems to approve of in his "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" statement is the separation of church and state, something I whole heartedly accept. The ideal for government, as far as I can see is the delicate balance of "freedom of religion" and the "freedom from religion." I want to be free to practice my religion, but I also want to be free from being forced to practice any other religion.  I know enough of history to know, that when one religion dominates the government then people get hurt and all sorts of abuse develops whether it is a country where the only religion allowed is Moslem or where the only religion allowed was Catholic. We are still suffering from the results of the Crusades, the Inquisition and when the Pope and the bishops ran the government. Even in our own country. we Catholics especially should never forget that there were days when being a Catholic was illegal in most of the colonies and we could be killed for practicing our Catholic faith because our Protestant brothers and sisters still remembered how they were treated back in Europe when we were in charge!  



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