Jewish leaders often challenged Jesus, yet he encouraged us to respect all legitimate
authority. For example, when the Scribes and Pharisees try to trap our Lord, dragging before him
a woman they caught in adultery: should we obey the Law, which commands good Jews to stone
such persons, or obey the Roman law, which forbids us from putting anyone to death without
their authorization? Jesus maintains respect for both Jewish and Roman law, while showing
mercy for the woman, saying: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a
stone at her” (John 8:7). Fearing that Roman authorities would condemn the first stone-thrower,
all the Jewish leaders turned away, leaving Jesus alone with the woman.
Again, the Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus, asking him whether Jews should pay the
unpopular tax to Cesar. Jesus asked to see the coin used to pay the tax: “And they brought him a
coin. Then Jesus said, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They answered, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then
he said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things
that are God’s’” (Matthew 22:19-21). So, we should support, respect, and obey civic authority in
things relating to society’s common good, yet render to God what is God’s, that is, total love and
fidelity to him as the source and ultimate end of our existence. As St. Paul states:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority
except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. So he who resists the
authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… For
the same reason pay taxes too, for authorities are God’s ministers, attending to this very
thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is
due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:1-2, 6-7; see
Wisdom 6:1-6)


Unjustly condemned to death, Jesus recognized Pilate’s authority over his humanity,
saying: “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore
he who delivered me to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). As children respect and pray for
their imperfect parents, Christians must respect and pray for their civic leaders, as St. Paul again
says:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all
men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,
godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our
Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (Timothy
2:1-4).


We must also respect and obey just laws. If a civic law goes against God’s law then
God’s law supersedes man’s. When the Jewish authorities commanded the apostles not to teach
Christ’s death and resurrection, “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than
men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree… And we
are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey
him’” (Acts 5:29-32). So, we must fight man’s law when it clearly goes against God and against
the common good of society. For example, obeying God must supersede laws that mandate
doctors to perform abortions or that mandate priests and ministers to perform same-sex marriages.

When is a citizen forbidden to obey civil authorities? A citizen is obliged in conscience
not to obey the laws of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral
order: “We must obey God rather than men” (CCCC 465 quoting Acts 5:29).

But God’s laws are really oriented toward mercy, regulating religious practice and
sacrifice to teach us how to love: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of
God, rather than burnt offering” (Hosea 6:6; see Matthew 12:1-8). It may seem that the religious
person honors God by seeking him daily as if he were righteous and obedient to God’s
ordinances. Yet God says: “Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked
fist… Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the
yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the
hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and
not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:2-7).


So, the true way to honor God is not by a rigorous following of rules, but by having a
merciful love of God with loving mercy toward all God’s children.