THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY, October 18, 2020
(Isaiah 45: 1.4-6; I Thessalonians 1: 1-5; Matthew 22: 15-21)
No one will argue that it has been a very strange year. The pandemic has made almost everything different. Many do not go to work but work at home. Those who go to the office, store, or workshop wear masks. This year will be remembered as rare also for the American elections. Two very different men have been named as candidates for the presidency. One attends mass every eight days and carries the rosary in his pocket. However, he does not adhere to one of the highest values of the Catholic faith - the need to protect the human person from conception. The other candidate does not present himself as religious. In fact, some of his actions seem unchristian. But for his appointment of three justices to the Supreme Court he will possibly be known as the president who has done more for the unborn than anyone else. We are fortunate to have this gospel of Caesar's coin to reflect on these unique choices.
The Pharisees and Herodians come together to trip up Jesus. In their time these two parties are as different as Democrats and Republicans today. However, because they see Jesus as a common enemy, they combine their forces to punish him. They approach Jesus, the teacher of the ascending law, with a burning question. They ask for his judgment on whether it is lawful to pay the tax, which is tribute, to Rome. To many Jews the tax seems like supporting a pagan dynasty that suppresses the kingdom of God in the promised land.
Jesus avoids answering their question directly. He realizes the insincerity of his adversaries. They do not want his wisdom but his humiliation before the people. But Jesus is smarter than they are. He asks them for the currency to pay the tax. The fact that they have it shows that they are more willing to pay the deplored tax than he is. Then he gives his judgment: "’ Give… to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. "
Now some want bishops to come out in favor of candidates and parties in the elections. Their motives are often as selfish as those of the Pharisees. They want political backing for their candidates from respected people. However, bishops like Jesus in the gospel are not directly answering the question. There are a couple of reasons for this approach. In the first place, if the bishops support a candidate or a party, they are putting the Church in financial danger. In the United States, religious entities do not have to pay taxes if they do not get into politics. Second and most important, the bishops do not claim to be experts on political matters. They recognize that their expertise is personal morality and not the management of the common good.
However, as Jesus recommends that we give Caesar what is Caesar's, the bishops have some advice for the faithful in elections. Above all, they ask voters to form their consciences according to the moral tradition of the church. This tradition urges us to consider the character of the candidate. We want public officials who will not deviate from righteousness in an environment full of pride, money, and lust. Tradition also recommends that we look for candidates capable of meeting your goals. Nor do morals overlook the fact that rulers should be people of high principles with: respect for human dignity, conviction to solve most problems at the personal or family level, sense that the common good sometimes requires personal sacrifices, and finally, as Pope Francis has just reminded us, understanding that we are all brothers and sisters to each other.
Elections sometimes discourage us. We feel that the elect are not the most preferable people. In these cases the first reading can help us. Isaiah says that with Cyrus, a pagan king, God achieves his goal. God often takes advantage of unjust people to form a better people. That is why we have to keep praying to God. Let us ask him to form, with his infinite ways, a society where the dignity of all is respected, even the unborn. Let us pray that he enlightens our consciences to make sacrifices for the good of all.