Are we rendering too much to Caesar? - Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Are we rendering too much to Caesar? - Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Living as we do in a capitalist economy and being part of a global market, economics is constantly in the news. We are always interested in what is happening in the world of economics. Energy prices are the issue of the moment – and rightly so. And house prices are always of interest. There is constant commentary on the state of the economy both at the state and national levels.

Politicians know that their mantra must be jobs, jobs, jobs. Elections swing on how well a government promotes economic wellbeing.

The Gospel today invites us to reflect on the place of economics in our lives: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The bishops’ social justice statement for this year was entitled ‘Everyone’s Business’ and addressed this issue. It spoke of developing an inclusive and sustainable economy.

The Church has built up a solid body of teaching on issues concerning the economy. The foundational document was the great social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum written in 1891. To mark the centenary of that landmark papal teaching on the rights of workers, Pope St John Paul II wrote an encyclical in 1991, entitled Centenimus Annus, to advance the teaching of Pope Leo. It was written in the aftermath of the fall of communism in 1989.

The Pope comments on the fall of communism in saying that the evil of the communist system was not just economic but human. The communist system (which he knew first hand) treated individuals as “a molecule within the social organism” (13,1). People, he said, were robbed of their moral freedom because the system suppressed, in his words, “the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision” (13,1).

The Pope addressed the question of what the other options were to communism, and mentions three: liberal democracies, national socialism and consumer societies.

The third option – consumer societies – he describes as seeking to offer as an alternative to Marxism a “pure materialism” that will show “how a free market society can achieve greater satisfaction of material human needs” (19,4). But this very attempt to offer an alternative to socialism, he says, runs the “grave risk of destroying the freedom and values of the person” (19,3). It can have the same detrimental effects on human life as Communism.

Back in 1991 Pope St John Paul II saw serious dangers in a free market economic model. He warned of the risk of an “idolatry” of the market (40,2). This “idolatry” he sees as threatening the wellbeing of people because in the cause of profit and financial achievement other social goods are overlooked. People’s dignity was being ignored.

The attitude can prevail that having is more important than being. People become caught up in what he describes as “a web of false and superficial gratifications”. Can we not recognise the truth of this?

In other words, the quality of human life is diminished. The social fabric is weakened. The moral conditions for human flourishing are undermined.

He comments that a “system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed with a strong juridical framework” can end up not being at the “service of human freedom in its totality” (42,2). In other words, societies driven by pure capitalism run the grave risk of damaging the lives on the people. Capitalism does not serve the truly human dimension of life. We are simply consumers, customers, “human resources”. Something is being lost: we become cogs in an economic machine, and the human person is diminished.

The Church has a role in speaking to the economic structures of the society. Indeed, we all need to ask ourselves honestly: have we become caught up in the consumer mentality? Have we been diminished by the pursuit of materialism?

The Lord reminds us today in the Gospel to render to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s and to God those things that are God’s. We need to pause and examine our conscience: have we rendered too much to Caesar and too little to God?

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Friday, 20 October 2017