‘I die the king’s good servant but God’s servant first.’ …these words were heard from the lips of St. Thomas More just before he was executed for defying King Henry VII. Henry demanded that Thomas sign the oath of supremacy, swearing his allegiance to the King over the Pope. St. Thomas More remained obedient to God and the Church by refusing Henry’s request and thus was beheaded. At his execution, St. Thomas More stated, “I die the king’s good servant but God’s servant first.”
The story of St. Thomas More’s fidelity to God fits the Gospel well this weekend. The Pharisees and religious leaders tried to trick Jesus with a question. “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus said yes, he would have been accused of idolatry, breaking Jewish law. If Jesus said no, he would have been accused of disobeying Roman law. They thought they had Jesus tricked until he drew their attention to the image on a coin and replied masterfully, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words, give to Caesar what has his image, but give to God what has his image.
What has God’s image on it? In the book of Genesis, “God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ Give to God what is made in his image and likeness! Jesus reminded his audience that we are called to give God that which has been made in His image, our very lives, loving him with all our heart, mind and soul.
Certainly we are called to obey those God has put in authority over us. Thomas More was a faithful Chancellor to King Henry VIII. However, when Henry’s rules conflicted with God’s law, those rules became null and void. Perhaps this is why St. Thomas More is the patron saint of lawyers and politicians. Civil leaders are reminded, especially Christians, that God’s law must reign supreme.
My brothers and sisters, during this month of October, we remember that we are called to respect & reverence all life from conception to natural death and educate this world so that our laws may reflect the Divine and the natural law. We continue to obey civil laws but in the end, may we all be able to say, “I die God’s faithful servant above all else!”