One of the best arguments for the existence of God is made by C.S. Lewis, that human beings have an innate sense of justice, and there must be a source for that intuition. We complain when we think justice is violated, when the agreed-upon rules are broken. We say, “It’s not fair…”
And so our Pilgrim Fathers left their native land to escape religious persecution, to found a new world in which, in time, every citizen would be deemed equal under the law, regardless of class, race, and religion. We talk about “blind justice,” and while it is not always achieved, Lady Justice remains our ideal.
When those who work in our halls of justice are not blind in rewarding and punishing, or when they themselves are immune from justice, we complain, and our complaint is right and just.
I’ve been editing, for future publication by the American Church Union, the late Robert Sherwood Morse’s sermons. He repeats often the words of Saint John, “God is Love.” And within that love lies mercy. But there’s no need for mercy, Bishop Morse explains, if there is no judgement. And hence we have the source of justice, this seed planted deep within each of us. His Advent sermons in particular emphasize and illuminate the nature of the Last Judgement, describing how we will be both judged and saved by Jesus Christ. Christ will judge our lives in Time, and through the Cross save us in Eternity. Save us from what? Save us from the punishment demanded by justice.
Love begets mercy and forgiveness. And mercy assumes judgement.
Today’s Gospel for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity describes the response of Our Lord to the trap laid by the Pharisees who ask him:
” ‘Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?’ ” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money.’ And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, ‘Whose is this image and superscription?’ They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’ ” (Matthew 22:15)
This passage is often quoted to support the separation of Church and State, as though we as Christians live parallel lives. What we do in church, what we believe, this argument goes, has nothing to do with whom we elect, the laws we enact, the societal mores we choose to uphold or tear down.
But Christ, a Jew with full knowledge of the Mosaic Law, was speaking to Jews also holding to this law, but who still lived in bondage to Rome’s law. The Mosaic Law was assumed, unquestioned. The question was a trap, and so Christ answered without answering.
Christians in America and other democracies are not (theoretically) living under totalitarian governments. We are encouraged to voice our beliefs to inform policy, to choose the good and refuse the evil.
When Moses descended Mount Sinai, carrying the Ten Commandments etched upon tablets of stone, his people could not look upon the brilliant radiance emanating from his face. Just so the law has been burned into our hearts and minds. The Mosaic law bound God to his people and the Children of Israel to God. Christ, the Messiah, embodied that law when he gave his body for us, rising from death, to save us from the judgement the law intrinsically imposed. Christ did not deny the law. He fulfilled it.
The early Church, those first Christians, knew that they must uphold the Ten Commandments, that they should worship only the one true God as the First Commandment commands. They died tortuous deaths for their public witness. They knew that the words of Christ to the Pharisees as he held the coin bearing Caesar’s image did not mean separation of Church and State.
Christians continue to witness to this truth. Those who witnessed against the horrors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, who gave their lives in the last century, knew they must not be silent in the face of evil.
We are called to bear witness to the great graces given to us in the Judeo-Christian heritage. We are called to honor not only the law of the land, but the law of God, and when they conflict, the latter demands our obedience.
Christ summarized this law of love:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Today, for many Anglicans, we celebrate as well the Feast of Christ the King. It seems appropriate that His kingship be celebrated on this 23rd Sunday after Trinity when we are reminded of law, commandments, and the great Summary of the Law.
God is, indeed, love. But in order to love we must have law and order. And we must have equality under the law. This our Founding Fathers knew. This we must protect for our children and their children.