In his answer Jesus implied that there should not be conflict between the demands of the state and those of God. The State has a role to play but its power is limited and does not supplant God. Thus, one must pay tribute to Caesar and God, in recognition of one’s dual citizenship. (1 Pet. 2: 17) Real wisdom recognizes the legitimate function of human authority in relation to God’s authority.
Vatican II reminds Christians that “as citizens of two cities, we should strive to discharge our earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the gospel spirit”. (Church in the Modern World Art 43).
What is demanded is that we engaged in the difficult discernment of how to live in history and society and above all, bi aware of our commitment to the reign of God. Each of today’s readings has concern with power. Cyrus is unknowingly the human instrument of God’s divine power; the Pharisees and Herodians plot against Jesus because they know that his powerful authority is attracting the people and distracting them from their own power. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul warmly praises the community for their fidelity to the Good News which has come among them “in the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” through the ministry of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. In the absence of Paul and his missionary companions, the Thessalonians have continued to believe, to work in love, and to endure in hope- just as many local churches continue as vibrant communities with limited presence of Ordained Minister.
Jesus’ response is an invitation to us to clarify our vision of God’s design and their conviction that such design is in fact God’s. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar are both real; the reality must be recognized and adapted to. But they are nowhere near of equal importance, equal power. The fact is that the Kingdom of God, if it is clearly envisioned, can and will flourish under any political or economic conditions.
Jesus in his reply gives a teaching: it is for the people to evaluate whether in demanding tribute, Caesar is reflecting the things of God. This evaluation continues in every political community. The political arena is not a territory protected from religious evaluation and criticism. If Caesar is subservient to God, then his laws are open to Christian evaluation. In the world of politics nothing is sacred.