For a long time, it has been the social rule in Australia that the topics of religion and politics are not to be raised in polite conversation. For a great deal of our history we have also had the adage that politics and religion don’t mix, and that they, therefore, should be kept quite separate. In Australia, particularly, when religious leaders start talking about political or economic matters many of us start feeling uneasy, if not even embarrassed. We entertain concerns about naivety, or anxieties about appeals drawn from a sectarian past, or fears about ecclesiastical interference in affairs that are rightly independent of the structure of the Church. Even if the religious voice is allowed, often enough the statements are relegated to be ‘motherhood’ and quaint, and really without a great deal of consequence.
However, I think the Word comes to us in today’s Gospel warns us against this kind of splitting in our thinking. It declares, “no servant can be the slave of two masters.” It calls, therefore, for a certain integrity in our choices and behaviours. It asks that we have a single point of reference in our life which might inform all our dealings, many of which at first might not seem to be spiritual, or with particular religious significance, at all.
The text speaks of money. Yet, I think money, in this context, might be regarded as that which is symbolic of our ordinary world of social, economic and political affairs. What the text is, at root, trying to express is that we cannot believe in God on the one hand, and act in the ordinary affairs of the world as if we had no belief. Christian discipleship doesn’t allow that type of splitting.
As those who believe that Christ lives even now, we are those who also, by virtue of our discipleship, are committed to realising the Kingdom of God which was at the centre of Jesus’ entire ministry. To have faith in Christ is to have a commitment to this Kingdom and its values. This Kingdom is not only a spiritual reality. It is also a social one. It is not simply about another world. It is also about this one. The Kingdom of God, as termed by Jesus, is firstly a social project which imagines a new order of relationships between us. It seeks to create a social life which is characterised by community, reconciliation, and inclusion where each of us lives for the other, by the other, with the other. Yes, this is a context which may only be fully realised in the next life but it is also one which, by virtue of our baptism, we pledge to work towards now.
And because the Kingdom of God is about social transformation, it is about social change. As a spiritual reality it is also a deeply political one. This is what makes the Gospel according to one writer, “a dangerous memory.” As disciples of the Risen Christ, it is this thing that Jesus calls the Kingdom which presents as the basis from which we make our choices, including our political choices. As the Gospel today implies: we are not to be afraid, therefore, to use those things of the world in order to maximise the potential of what we value. It is from this perspective that Pope Francis has spoken of the need for Catholics to meddle in politics. He is not advocating by this that the Church, institutionally, should busy itself with the affairs of government. What he is urging, however, is that disciples of Christ take an active interest in their society and, using political agencies and processes, work to bring about a society that is genuinely reflective of God’s intention for us in a common life together.
There is, of course, no political party called the Kingdom of God. Neither should there be. And in a liberal democracy such as Australia’s every political party will be ambiguous at best when placed across the template of the Kingdom – a mixture of expediency and principle, with a variety of policies some of which are reflective of the values of the Kingdom and some which aren’t. For this reason, of course, we have to weigh up the whole situation, accepting the good and the bad, yet always keenly discerning which agenda has the greatest capacity to move us toward not just any values but specifically the values of the Kingdom.
We do so in the privacy of our conscience, as it should be. But our consciences are not blank. They are deeply informed by what we know through the Church about God and his dream for our world.
It can’t be one way for our religious life and another for our political life. We are the servants of only one master.
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