The Lord is king over all the earth, as we sing in Sunday’s Psalm. Governments rise and fall by his permission, with no authority but that given from above (see John 19:11; Romans 13:1).
In effect, God says to every ruler what he tells King Cyrus in today’s first reading: “I have called you … though you knew me not.”
The Lord raised up Cyrus to restore the Israelites from exile, and to rebuild Jerusalem (see Ezra 1:1-4). Throughout salvation history, God has used foreign rulers for the sake of his chosen people. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened to reveal God’s power (see Romans 9:17). Invading armies were used to punish Israel’s sins (see 2 Maccabees 6:7-16).
The Roman occupation during Jesus’ time was, in a similar way, a judgment on Israel’s unfaithfulness. Jesus’ famous words in the Gospel this week, “Repay to Caesar,” are a pointed reminder of this. And they call us, too, to keep our allegiances straight.
The Lord alone is our king. His kingdom is not of this world (see John 18:36), but it begins here in his Church, which tells of his glory among all peoples. As citizens of heaven (see Philippians 3:20), we are called to be a light to the world (see Matthew 5:14) — working in faith, laboring in love and enduring in hope, as today’s Epistle counsels.
We owe the government a concern for the common good, and obedience to laws — unless they conflict with God’s commandments as interpreted by the Church (see Acts 5:29).
But we owe God everything. The coin bears Caesar’s image. But we bear God’s own image (see Genesis 1:27). We owe him our very lives — all our heart, mind, soul and strength, offered as a living sacrifice of love (see Romans 12:1-2).
We should pray for our leaders, that like Cyrus they do God’s will (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2) — until from the rising of the sun to its setting, all humanity knows that Jesus is Lord.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.