Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
(II Peter 3:12-15a.17-18; Mark 12:13-17)
Although the Church has usually advocated obedience to public authority, it has not always done so. It certainly prohibited worship of Roman deities when the authorities demanded it. Although the bishops probably capitulated to Henry VIII in England, Thomas More and John Fisher are canonized saints for not signing the Act of Supremacy. In today’s gospel Jesus gives his instruction on the issue.
The Pharisees and Herodians, strange bedfellows but united in contempt, approach Jesus. They ask his opinion of a paramount issue when no crisis is on the horizon. What kind of loyalty do Jews owe to Rome, represented by Caesar? Should they pay taxes to support the empire? The Pharisee-Herodian conspiracy think they have Jesus trapped. If he says “yes,” then he would lose the growing support he has for being the Messiah. If he says “no” and the Roman authorities hear of his position, they might seize him. He doesn’t punt on the issue. He advises that people owe government some support for building roads, keeping the peace, etc. But, he would insist, they should always put God first.
Issues regarding civil authority still arise from time to time. A wise bishop once made this insight. Civil laws that are not evil in themselves must be obeyed. Only when they demand something that is patently wrong should they be resisted. For the bishop, doctors should not prescribe drugs expressly prohibited by the indicated government authority. On the other hand, they would have the duty not to participate either directly or indirectly in euthanasia or abortion. If a government were to mandate such participation, they would be obliged to give up their practice.