Commentary on the Gospel of
As I finish this reflection, it is Memorial Day in the U.S., and as you read this it is (probably) June 6, the 73rd anniversary of D-Day from World War II. The juxtaposition of these two historically significant dates reminds me that we don’t often enough, nor deeply enough, reflect on the enormous sacrifices that our ancestors paid to insure the lives we live today. Certainly veterans and those who fought wars, first responders, and other protectors of the public deserve our deepest thanks for their past and current efforts. But so too do our parents, and ancestors, and siblings, and others who through their own good lives have sacrificed greatly to give us so much. Please take a moment to remember them in your reflection today, and to ask yourself if you are paying it forward to your own children, family, and larger community.
Reflecting on the excerpt from Mark has been difficult for me. At first it seems Jesus is saying keep state matters and religious ones separate. When I looked at a bit of background, the subtle political context became apparent – the census tax waged levied by Romans on non-citizen subjects of the empire, so paying the tax was an acknowledgement of subservience. Since most Hebrews at this time thought the coming messiah was to re-establish the kingdom of Israel, paying the tax would indicate accepting the status quo. Paying would not be the expected action of a revolutionary setting out to re-create a kingdom.
The difficulty is in parsing this separation in the 21st century. My country was founded on several core beliefs, one of which is that there should be no state sponsored religion, and hence there should be a separation of church and state. But the parameters of that separation have always been fluid, and we currently see increased political activity that is motivated by a desire to further particular religious and/or moral beliefs. This blending of God and Caesar troubles many people, while many others feel a moral imperative to engage in this blending.
How would Jesus respond today to the issues that seem to drive this motivation to blend God and Caesar? He was not afraid to challenge the status quo of His day by consciously and outwardly treating all people as worthy of God’s love. Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick and comforted those in bereavement – all those who in His world were treated as the lowest of the low. He was not concerned about social appearances and was equally comfortable with sinner and saint. Would He be any less present for those who today we treat as less than us – the homeless, the refugee, those who are “unbelievers,” those who are created LGBTQ, the pregnant woman who is overwhelmed by the reality of motherhood?
And how would Jesus respond today to this blending of the concerns of God and Caesar – would He support laws that criminalize homelessness, would He build walls to keep refugees out, would He treat with suspicion those who encounter God differently than He, would He relegate LGBTQ people to second class status, would He marginalize women at a time when they are most vulnerable?
I can’t imagine Jesus being cruel rather than compassionate. I can’t imagine Jesus using the political system to harm rather than help. I can’t imagine Jesus criticizing rather than consoling. When I reflect on how Jesus would respond, I see Him with His arms open wide, welcoming those most affected, saying “Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.” When Jesus says in Mark today “repay to God what belongs to God” I think He means – “All you have and will ever have comes to you from your loving God. Treat your sisters and brothers as God treats you, with love and compassion and understanding and gentleness.”
And so my prayer today is for the grace of greater sensitivity in understanding how I can repay to God what belongs to God.