What Jesus Cares About

What Jesus Cares About

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

In today’s Gospel we see Our Blessed Lord put to the test by the Pharisees. As they approach to lay a snare before Him, they begin, as do all tricksters, by a captatio benevolentiae: “Master, we know that Thou art a true speaker, and teach the way of God in truth, neither care Thou for any man, for Thou dost not regard the person of men”. The literal terms used by the evangelist signify that Jesus has no care for the person of those he is speaking to. At first sight, this might seem to be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe the Pharisees are overdoing it in heaping praise. Does not the Lord have great care for persons? Is He not love incarnate, come to reach and to save each and every soul? How then can they say that He does not care about the people? In spite of their ill-will, the Pharisees have touched upon a deep truth which we would do well to consider more carefully.

The obvious meaning in the context is that the Pharisees wish to stress that the Lord would not be afraid to give a true answer, whatever consequences might follow for Him. And this is indeed a noble quality which few men have. Indeed, if they can persuade Him to forbid paying the tax to Caesar, the Pharisees have achieved a double goal: first, they have made Him say what they themselves think to be right, and second and more in their interest, they get Our Lord into a lot of trouble with the political power. Whence the flattery! It was an evil tactic, but one which backfires on them as the rest of the story tells.

Let’s venture a bit further, however, and see in these words a more profound truth about Our Lord, one which our world direly needs. It is this: Even though Our Blessed Saviour loves all men and wants them all to be saved, His first and greatest concern is to get them to assent to the truth, for without the truth, there can be no peace of heart, and there can be no salvation. As He Himself says in St John: The truth shall set you free (Jn 8:32). In other words, it is the exact opposite of what we hear most often nowadays, and it has been so for a long time now. Ever since Descartes took the human mind on the tragic and fruitless journey around itself, taking it away from objective reality, we have been submerged in subjectivism. It’s as if in our day all that matters is the thinking person, what one feels and experiences. This is exactly the way the modernist heresy developed, and here I speak of the modernism that Pope St Pius X analysed so well in the Encyclical Pascendi, and which is still very much alive. It is because the modernist mind is entirely self-centred and subjective, that it thinks it discovers truth in itself. But of course, the human mind being destined to know the objective truth, whenever it gets wound up in its own imaginings, can only go adrift. Humans are not self-referential; when they try to be, they fall into insanity.

That is precisely why those words spoken by the pharisees mean so much to us today. Jesus does not care what people think. What He cares about is man’s eternal destiny. And He knows more than anyone how to lead him there, which is why He lays such high demands upon him, why He meets souls where they are, but challenges them to leave themselves and be set free by the truth about God and about the world.

Those demands of Christ are synthesised in the final words of today’s Gospel: Render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Few words in the Gospel have caused as much ink to flow, but here in brief is what Our Lord means: Caesar signifies the temporal power. Whatever form it takes, when a government is legitimate, all citizens have the duty to pay honour, respect and obedience to it by being law-abiding citizens, paying taxes, defending the fatherland, etc. But subordinate to the duty to Caesar is the duty each individual has to Almighty God. Each person has the duty, first and foremost, to seek the truth and to adhere to it when he has found it, to live in accordance with its demands and to defend it when it is maligned. Since this duty to God is incumbent on every human being, this means that part of Caesar’s role is to foster that duty and make it possible to realise. And this is precisely the reason for which, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, reaffirmed incidentally by Vatican II, that nations owe public honour and respect to Christ the King, nor can they be indifferent to religion in general. To be so is already to have apostatised from the true faith and to cease rendering to God the things that are God’s.

Sadly, tragically, it is a reality that all of our modern governments find themselves in such a state, and their official apostasy has today reached its climax with the promotion of grave immorality and idolatry. So it is that when you drift from the true God, the only place to go is to the devil.

And that is why, my dear friends, we must never stop repeating that our battle is one which demands renewed energy. It is, first of all, a battle to ensure that we, individually, as families and communities, are rendering to God what is God’s. Are we spending time each day in prayer? Does God have the primacy in my life? Do I spend time each day contemplating His mysteries and longing to be united with Him? Do I strive to find ways of making God known and loved, of helping at least a few souls attain to salvation? Do I make efforts according to my capacities to turn back the tide of evil and open hearts to the truth of God?

One of the most effective ways of doing this after daily prayer is the study of the Catechism. The simplest truths of the catechism are the deepest and the most important, simply because they are revealed by Our Lord: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, the Last Things, etc. And that is why the young child who knows the fundamental truths of the catechism is far more learned than the self-righteous, self-centred graduates of what were formerly prestigious universities. Let’s get back to basics, learn our faith over again, and spread it to others.

St Paul today once again sets us straight on the path to doing just that when he reminds us of the “day of Christ Jesus”, that is to say of His return in glory. We must allow Him to achieve in us the work He began in our baptism, so that the work of sanctification may be complete when He returns. In the meantime, writes the apostle, with words that I can make my own today: It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Phil 1:7-11)