By Heidi Hess Saxton
Some days I log on to Facebook and wish there was an eye-roll option on the “Like” panel. What for me was once a place to connect across the miles with friends and family has shown a sinister side, alienating people who have known each other for decades. Accusations fly, anger flares. And the devil laughs.
In today’s Gospel, we are reminded that the volatile combination of religion and politics caused problems in Jesus’ time, too. Every year, adult Jewish men paid tribute to two entities: a half-shekel census tax to the Temple treasury (see Ex 30:11-16), and a second tribute to the much-despised civil authorities of Rome.
In Matthew 22, the religious elite try to entrap Jesus by giving him an impossible choice: pleasing his Jewish brethren and risking the ire of the powers that be, or acknowledging his civic responsibilities and alienating his followers.
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.” …
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
When we find ourselves getting drawn in to another angry diatribe, it can help to remember that beyond certain non-negotiable “precepts” (going to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation, annual confession, Easter Eucharist, observing proscribed days of fasting and abstinence, and giving to the needs of the Church), Catholics are obliged to form their beliefs and consciences to conform to the dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church—and that it is possible to use prudential judgment to weight temporal concerns more than one way.
The Catechism speaks of the duties of citizenship (CCC 2238-2243). But what happens if the two responsibilities seemingly collide? Today’s Gospel offers three insights to guide us the next time we find ourselves being drawn into online conflicts.
1. Beware the set-up. “We know you are a truthful man…” the entreaty began. Online, the appeal to ego can be just as subtle: Are you really pro-life? Reverent? Concerned about the poor?
2. Don’t take the bait. The Jewish leaders wanted to neutralize Jesus, rid themselves of the troublesome Nazarene, even if it meant enlisting the help of Roman soldiers. So they asked the loaded question, and waited for him to fall into the trap. Instead, Jesus raises a third option.
3. Speak truth in love. Jesus could have called out his accusers, and revealed their dark and twisted hearts. Instead he urged them to walk in true justice. No name-calling. No vilification. “This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (John 15:17-18).
Lord Jesus, you loved those who hated and misunderstood you even unto death. Give us grace and wisdom, O God, so that every word that flows from me brings only life and mercy, and draws those who hear it closer to you. Jesus, I trust in you!
About the Author:
Heidi is a wife and adoptive mother, contributing writer to WINE, and author of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the follow-up companion, Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, released January 2017). Heidi received a graduate degree in theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 2012, having converted to the Catholic faith in 1995 from the evangelical tradition. She met her husband, Craig, at the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club, and lives with her family (including two special-needs teenagers, a longsuffering Aussie shepherd and a snuggly Chiweenie) near South Bend, Indiana.