Two groups who are generally opposed to one another, the Herodians and the Pharisees, appear to have formed an alliance. The Herodians, most likely supporters of the Galilean tetrarch Herod Antipas, have acquiesced and have allied themselves with the Roman occupation so that their “party” can be in leadership. The Pharisees, are opposed to Roman occupation and certainly do not support Caesar’s self-imposed status as a god. Mark indicates that representatives of each group are sent to Jesus to “ensnare him in his speech.” They are seeking to gain evidence to bring charges against him.
They come up with an elaborate plan that seems foolproof. A representative from these groups asks Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay” (Mk 12:14). If Jesus answers that they ought to pay, then the Pharisees can bring charges against him for idolatry. If Jesus refuses to pay, the Herodians can then bring charges against him for disobeying Caesar’s tax. Jesus asks for a denarius, a Roman coin, and asks what image is on the coin, the response is Caesar. So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him (Mk 12:17).
Jesus bested them at their own game, in thinking outside of the limitations that were imposed on him by his questioners. Our faith is built on Jesus’ response. Not in the modern distinction of church and state, but more often than not we are to follow Jesus’ model and guidance of how we are to live in the world but not be of it. In most cases, we are to embrace not an either/or response, but a both/and response. Ultimately, the final determiner is God.
One example of such a false dichotomy which is often displayed is whereby one is placed in a position to choose either faith or reason. One could approach Jesus today, as did the representative for the Herodians and the Pharisees, and ask, “Rabbi, should we follow faith or reason?” We are more authentic in actualizing and pursuing the greater breadth, depth, and width of understanding who we are as human beings and our place in the cosmos when we embrace both faith and reason. Our science and intellect are spurred on by our sense of wonder and awe in that we seek to understand our world around us. Using our ability to reason, to hypothesize, and ask why have lead humanity to some wonderful discoveries. Reason and science though can only take us so far.
The gift of faith helps us to go beyond the ability to solve problems in the sensory or physical realm alone and to enter into the ground of Mystery by entering into a relationship with God and the spiritual realities of his creation that transcend our physical world and capacity to measure it. God has created all things visible and invisible. Just a few of the many examples of practicing Catholics from our past who have shown this both/and approach are Copernicus (1473-1543), who developed the theory of heliocentrism, meaning that the earth is not the center of the universe but instead revolves around the sun; Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), who excelled in the study of anatomy, geology and is considered the founder of the study of fossils; Gregor Mendel (1822-1844), who was an Augustinian friar and is considered to be the father of genetics; and Fr. Georges Lemaitre (1894-1966), who is considered the father of the Big Bang Theory.
The Catholic Church is not opposed to science but discourages the concept of a hyper-scientism, which states that we can only believe something to be real or to exist if it can be measured by the senses or experimentation alone. This is a limitation to the gift of wonder. As St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” We need to continue to embrace the gift of wonder and rise to meet its invitation by soaring aloft with both wings of faith and reason.