Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Republic Day. Today is our seventieth Republic Day when we gave to ourselves the Constitution. The preamble in the Constitution reads:
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.”
However, in the last few months particularly we have seen that the very fabric of this preamble has been attacked by passing laws like the CAA, based on the grounds of religion and excluding the Muslim community from its right for refugee status or the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) or the National Population Register (NPR) which excluded 19 lakh people in the exercise carried out in Assam. This was then stated in Parliament that it would be applied to all the states of India by the Home Minister and later refuted by the PM stating that no serious discussion has taken place on the NRC being applied to all states. This has led to protest all over India and has put people at unrest.
It is in this kind of context that God calls us as a Christian community to stand up for the truth and the values of the kingdom of God. In the gospel reading for us this morning, the Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus and therefore they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. This group comes to Jesus and they say, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
The purpose of this question was to test whether Jesus owed allegiance to the Roman Empire or whether he would support the Jewish people in not paying taxes, which would mean that he was against the ruling Roman government. The point was to either label him as ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-community’, one way or the other, depending on his answer. They wanted to trap Jesus with this question. Sometimes you and I may be forced to face this same question. You are anti-national if you don’t agree with the current dispensation or you are anti-community if you do. How do we navigate through these difficult decisions? Are there only these two options? The theology underling paying taxes was that allegiance to God and to Rome as a pagan occupying power were fundamentally incompatible. You had to be with one or the other.
Jesus however comes out with a different option altogether. He says, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus ask them to bring a coin and he showed them the image on the coin and asked them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said it was Caesar’s.
Jesus therefore said, ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’ Jesus was in fact saying that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar but it does not stop with that. There are obligations to the State that do not infringe on our obligation to God and we are expected to do it. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of the God and therefore our ultimate loyalty is to God. We are to practice this loyalty in our day to day to day lives as we practice, obedience, love, justice, truth and faithfulness. We are to bring in God’s reign, the new community of upside-down kingdom values, which is the source of hope and transformation. We are not to remain as mute spectators when there is injustice around us. We are to speak the truth in love.
German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) talked about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including himself, by his own admission) following the Nazis' rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group as follows:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
May we not fall into that same category. As followers of Christ truth and justice are vitally important for us. We are to stand up for truth, for justice, for equality, for liberty and for the fraternity as we have promised ourselves in the Constitution. May God bless our Republic of India. Jai Hind! and God bless you.
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