Blase J. Cupich

The conflict we must face

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

As we move toward the end of the church year with the feast of Christ the King, the Sunday readings from the Gospel of Matthew have featured the mounting conflict between Jesus and civic and religious leaders. His challenge to their way of thinking about justice, sin and even how God works in the world prompts them at first to try to trap him, but when that fails, they conspire to get rid of him.

One particular scene, the question of paying the census tax, brings to a head how far apart the leaders are from Jesus. Their plan is to trap him. If Jesus affirms that the tax should be paid, the people will be angered and turn on him. If he says that paying the tax is not lawful, then he will risk the punishment of Caesar. After asking for the coin needed for the tax, he asks whose head and inscription is on it. “Caesar’s,” they reply. “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he says, adding “and to God what is God’s.”

His response exposes the narrowness of their thinking. They are fixated on the coin, to the point that money and their possession of it is their only and even absolute concern. Jesus reminds them that in God’s kingdom, there is another coin of the realm, namely human beings, who carry the image and likeness of God and bear God’s writing in their hearts. Human dignity and the flourishing of every human being are the values to be pursued and promoted.

All of us can become narrow in our thinking of what really matters and become fixated on monetary gain, making our own finances the absolute value to be pursued, to the point that we overlook God’s plan that the world’s resources are meant for all of humanity, so that each person is given the opportunity to flourish and develop.

Such a fixation can blind us to the needs of others, leaving us more concerned about the images on our coins rather than those sealed in the image and likeness of God. If fact, we can begin to think that financial status is what defines human worth, value and dignity, so that those who have less, are thereby less valuable. When that happens we soon find ourselves on the side of those who are in conflict with the way God thinks.

In his newest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis urges us to think as God does — in fact as God has thought since he created the world. From the beginning, God entrusted creation to humanity, not as owners, but as stewards who tend the garden so that every human being may flourish as they equally benefit from its produce.

Some voices today dismiss this way of thinking as “socialism.” That kind of labeling distracts from the fact that what the Holy Father offers us is as ancient as the creation narrative found in the Book of Genesis. It should not be lost on us that the “original” sin of our first parents, repeated by their first-born son, Cain, involved treating creation’s produce as a possession to measure their own power, value and worth.

This original sin still lingers in the human heart and Jesus came into the world, precisely to free us from it. His challenge to the world’s way of thinking is at the heart of the conflict we see in the Gospel text over these weeks. It is a conflict not just with those in his time but in all times, for the world rejects and has rejected from the beginning the way God thinks about the proper use of the goods of the earth.

This conflict resides in the hearts of each of us. Each of us must face it if we are once again to choose God’s kingdom, where Christ is king. As we move to that great feast of Christ the King, may our response be in the words of our Latino sisters and brothers: Viva Cristo Rey!