"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
October 16, 2011: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6
Synopsis: Cyrus (c. 600 – 540 B.C) reigned over the Persian Empire for about 30 years. His empire encompassed the entire Middle East from western India to Turkey. In this week’s first reading Isaiah proclaims that Cyrus has been anointed by God for the sake of Israel. Even though he was a pagan, God used Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and liberate the Jews who had been captured and taken into exile after the conquest of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Although Cyrus was the most powerful ruler on earth at the time, God was in command.
This idea is implied in this week’s Gospel about paying taxes to Caesar. The second reading begins a series of readings from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that will take us to the end of Church year. Written from Corinth around A.D. 521 Thessalonians is the earliest text in the New Testament and so it gives us a unique insight into what the young Church was like. Paul begins his letter with an expression of gratitude for their faith, hope and love while reminding them that they, like Cyrus, have been chosen by God for a purpose.
The question about paying taxes to Caesar in this week’s Gospel takes place within a context where the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem was intensifying. If Jesus approved of paying the tribute he would be accused of being a Roman sympathizer and a sellout; if he disapproved he would be accused of treason. Jesus’ artful response shows that Caesar (the state) has his own legitimate but limited sphere of authority, but it’s an authority that comes from God and is, therefore, subject to Him (see Jn 19:10-11).
Key verse: “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:21).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a ‘moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility’” (1902).
Pope Benedict XVI: “From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator” (Speech given at the welcoming ceremony April 16, 2008, during the pope’s U.S. visit).
Life application: "Without justice,” St. Augustine once said, “what else is the state but a great band of robbers?” A truly just government is one that itself is governed by high moral principles. That doesn’t mean that the state should be a theocracy. It means that Caesar’s powers are limited and that he himself is subject to a higher authority. When the state tries to have power over areas of human life that it has no right to control, like the family, it oversteps its bounds and puts itself in the place of God. When that happens, we have a moral obligation to resist the state (peacefully of course).
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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