The 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 18th October 2020
Lectionary Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6; Ps 95:1,3-5,7-10; 1 Thess 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21
Theme: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”
The exchange recorded in today’s gospel is well known. Even on my little island of Tonga, there is a well-known traditional Song, “leave and give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. It seems that Jesus gives credit both to the State for the common good of its citizens and to our service and worship of God as well as gratitude to God. We have the law to support and uphold what is right, and we also have our consciences and freedom to make the right choice. I am moved by the law of the conscience and the freedom of choice in the response of Jesus to the question posed to him by the Pharisees and the Herodians.
The question, the dilemma that was posed to Jesus was: “what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (v. 17) The Pharisees and the Herodians had opposite views regarding the paying of taxes. “Strict Pharisees would have considered the inscription on the denarius handed to Jesus – which almost certainly read, Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest – to be blasphemous”. (Emmaus Series: 109). The Jews resented their rulers and despised paying taxes to Caesar. If Jesus encouraged the paying of taxes, he would lose credibility with the Jewish nation who would regard him as a friend of Caesar. If he said it was not lawful, the Pharisees would win: they would have a strong case to report him to the authorities as a political trouble-maker and have him arrested.
On the other hand, we have the Herodians, the faithful followers of Herod, having no problem with their consciences about paying taxes. “If Jesus condemned the paying of the tax, he could be denounced for subversion”. (Emmaus Series: 109).
Now we come to hear the response of Jesus. A phrase we often hear in all spheres of life at critical times “what is my response, or what is our response”. What is our response to this Corona Virus Pandemic? Jesus responded: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (v. 21b). The Pharisees and the Herodians, have their own values and constitutions that they follow and uphold. Quite ironically the Romans had originally occupied Palestine at the invitation of the Jewish leaders. Jesus seems to be saying to the two groups: concerning the issue of paying taxes, face it with the decision of your conscience. In John 8:1-11, the account of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus responded to the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees: “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone”.
As Christians we are supposed to be good citizens, pay our taxes and exercise our voting rights. We belong to God, we are stamped with God’s image since we are created in God’s own image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27). We do not belong to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How strong is my passion for the love of my country and my love for God and my neighbor? 2. Is there anything in the readings of today that inspires me regarding my personal relationship with Jesus?
Bibliography: Wikipedia, John Thornhill sm The Emmaus Series, Francis J. McAree; New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal (New Jersey: 2011)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
‘Aliki A Langi, Australia, Bat Kol Alumnus: 1905, 1918