TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
God and Caesar
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
Many times as Christians we are faced with difficult decisions. But we have been given an inner voice to guide us, namely, the voice of conscience. How well do we listen to this voice? For instance, am I at peace with my conscience right now? [Pause]
If there is anything bothering me, let me bring it to God, asking pardon and guidance. I confess to almighty God
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Isaiah 45:1.4-6). The return of the people from exile under King Cyrus is seen not merely as a sign of God’s love for his people but of his lordship over all people.
Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 111-5). This contains the opening lines from Paul’s first letter to the community of Christians he founded at Thessalonika. His concern for them shines through.
Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21). In an effort to trap Jesus into saying something incriminating, his enemies ask him whether or not it is right for a Jew to pay taxes to Caesar.
The most important part of a ship is the rudder. Without the rudder it could not be steered. It would simply run amuck. The most precious thing we possess is our conscience. Without a conscience we could not steer the barque of our lives towards the harbour of truth and right. Today there are so many forces vying for control of our conscience. It is easy to sell one’s conscience or to hand it over to someone else. But as Christians God must always have the first claim on our conscience.
Franz Jaggerstéitter was born in Austria and grew up a Catholic. There was nothing about the youthful Franz to suggest that he had in him the stuff of martyrs. He was an ordinary, unremarkable young man who had only an elementary education and who became a casual worker.
However, at some stage he suddenly grew up. He became very responsible and began to take his religion seriously. He did not, however, become fanatical about it. He was what you might call a simple, devout Catholic. He married a girl called Anna and they had three children.
By this time Europe was in turmoil. The Second World War was raging. Franz was thirty-six years old when the thing he was dreading finally happened. He was called up to serve in Hitler’s army. But he had already made up his mind on this question. His answer was ‘no’. He would not join up.
This was pretty well unheard of at the time, and from a worldly point of view, was tantamount to suicide. Friends tried to talk him into joining up.
‘I cannot join’, he said simply.
‘Why not?’ they asked.
‘Because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience’.
‘But many others have joined up. So why can’t you?’ they persisted.
‘What others do is their business. I have to answer for my own conscience. I have only one conscience. I cannot afford to throw it away’.
‘But where is your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?’ they continued.
‘Don’t get me wrong. I love my people, and I love my country. But there is a higher law – God’s law. And God’s law tells me that this war is wrong’.
‘Look’, someone else added, ‘all you have to do is obey. After all, the war is not your making. You are not responsible for it’. ‘That is true’, said Franz, ‘but I still have my conscience. This tells me that one day I will have to answer for everything I do. On that day I will not be able to hide behind anyone, or behind my country, or my flag’.
‘Oh, so you think you’re better than all those others who have gone off to the war, and who right now are risking their lives at the front?’
‘I’m not saying that at all. In fact, I know I’m weak, cowardly, and sinful. But I still can’t join without losing my integrity and inner peace’.
‘But your religious leaders have not come out clearly against the war. Are you saying that you know better than they do?’
‘Of course not. All I’m saying is that I have to be guided by my own conscience, like a Christian should’.
‘Ah’, said an old retired soldier, ‘once you put on the uniform and get a weapon in your hands, you’ll feel different about it. You’ll forget your crazy ideas’.
’To me there is something far more precious than any uniform or any decorations that might come to me’.
‘And what is that?’ they asked him.
‘To me the most precious thing in the whole world is the consciousness of not participating in evil’.
‘Is that your final answer?’
‘That is my final answer’, said Franz.
He knew well the consequences of his refusal. He was arrested and sent to prison. There further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife begged him to reconsider his decision. But all to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. Surely here was a modern Thomas More?
‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God’. Today I suppose you could say that Caesar’s place is taken by the secular State, that is, the State which is not so much against God as without God. It is a State which no longer bases its law on his laws. In modern states you have a complete separation between Church and State. At times this can pose serious dilemmas for Christians involved in public office. They cannot impose their own moral values and beliefs on others, yet they must not take part in what, from a Christian viewpoint, is morally wrong.
But it’s not only those in public office that have to face difficult situations. Every Christian living in the modern world is faced with them. There are so many little ‘Caesars’ vying for a piece of our conscience. There is the party, the company, the club, etc. All clamour for our loyalty, all are eager to claim a piece of our conscience. Let us hope that like Franz we will give God the first and highest claim on our loyalty. No way would Franz hand his conscience over to Caesar. His conscience belonged to God. Whatever else we must give to Caesar let us not give him the most precious thing we have.
‘The main problem of the twentieth century: is it permissible to commit one’s conscience to someone else’s keeping?’ (Solzhenitsyn).
‘It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for what is right’. (Thoreau).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray that we may not be afraid to stand up and be counted in a world that often ignores and sometimes laughs at the values of Christ. R. Lord, graciously hear us.
For the leaders of the Church: that they may not be afraid to speak out and so may provide a courageous voice for truth, justice, and peace in the world. [Pause] Lord, hear us.
For the leaders of our country: that God may fill them with a spirit of wisdom and integrity, so that they may always act in accordance with his will. [Pause] Lord, hear us.
That we may place loyalty to truth, to right, and to God, before loyalty to friends, to party, or to country. [Pause] Lord, hear us.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, grant us in all Our duties your help, in all our dangers your protection, in all our doubts your guidance, so that you may always have the first and highest place in our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord. .
Eichmann was responsible for the deaths
of millions of Jews in Hilter’s concentration camps.
Yet when he was brought to trial,
he absolved himself from all personal responsibility
by claiming that he was merely carrying out orders.
But he was deceiving himself.
We are all responsible for what we do,
even though we may try to hide behind others.
Eichmann has legions of followers today.
Millions sell their souls, if not to an individual,
then to a party, or company, or institution.
Yet, if in the course of so-called duty,
people lose themselves and their own souls,
whatever they do or achieve will be worthless.
Would that every Christian could say
what Thomas More said:
‘I die the King’s good servant,
but God’s first’.