“The Source of Authority and Power”
(Fr Regie, MSP)
The magnificence of the world and the enormous capacity of human beings to recreate things reveal the existence of such power we hold in our hands. Yet, not being aware of or separating the exercise of this power from its ultimate source who is God has brought also the painful consequence of destruction in our midst, for apart from the divine nurturing and nourishing power, it can be abused through the detriment of people. Without accountability to God, power would become a brute force used to subjugate and manipulate people. Hence, by submitting to the authority of God, human power becomes a source of life for others and used for human flourishing. It is in a way purified by God’s power.
The prophet Isaiah (45:1, 4-6) in the first reading explains that Cyrus, the Emperor of Persians, the most powerful man in the known world was simply an instrument chosen by God to carry out his plan. This shows also that all other powers on earth are under the supreme dominion of God. “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you know me not…It is I who arm you…men may know that there is none besides me.” The word of God exhorts Cyrus that he is behind his power and that through him others may know God. He must know that the source of his authority is hidden and unknown and by recognising it he will exercise the power entrusted to him to do good, render justice and do the will of God. At this time when we find world leaders who do not regard God as the source of their authority, we are consoled in the realisation that God is still in control and he can use for his own ends even those who do not know him.
In the Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21) we find the Pharisees and the Herodians who try to trap Jesus. They are not concerned so much about the supreme rule of God, rather they are out to get Jesus putting him in a dilemma about their question, “Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” They think Jesus will choose one, thus get in trouble either of his own people or of the Roman authorities. Jesus whose wisdom is of God use this as an opportunity to teach them about the kingdom of God who rules over the world and the kingdoms of men whose authority ultimately comes from God. To make his point he asks them to show him the coin used to pay taxes. The silver coin is stamped with image of Tiberius Caesar. When Jesus questions them whose image is on the coin, the Pharisees have no way but to tell him “Caesar’s”. He pronounces then a legitimate teaching, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”
There should be no conflict between political and religious obligations when they are legitimately met. Jesus, however, in saying “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s” subordinates the claims of Caesar to the claims of God. If the Roman coin bears the image of Caesar, then it belongs to him and should be given back to him. But the human person bears the image of the living God (Gen 1;27), hence, every human being including Caesar, the Emperor Cyrus in the first reading and every ruler of nations are all subject to God and should submit themselves to him. Saint Paul in the second reading (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5) reiterates that the church “belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And the preaching of the Gospel comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. To be able to bring life to the world, to help in the building up of the just, loving society, we all need to submit to the authority and power of God which is love and mercy itself. Then the power of greed and selfishness is overcome by the power of the grace of God.