29th Sunday O T Year A – 17
Is.45:1, 4-6; IThes.1:1-5b; Matt.22:15-21
A prosperous farmer was miserly in what he gave to his Church. So, his pastor went to visit him with the hope of getting him to increase his donation. The pastor pointed out to him that the Lord had given him a fertile piece of land and had blessed him with sunshine and rain so that his crops would grow.
The priest added, “You know, this farm and everything you have is really on loan to you from God. You should be more grateful.” The farmer replied, “I don’t mean to complain, Father, but you should have seen what a mess this place was when God was running it by Himself!”
The common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and Heaven.
In the first reading and in the Gospel, a world superpower is matched up against the Kingdom of God. Isaiah the prophet foretells how, indirectly, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will help God’s saving plan for His chosen people.
In the second reading, Paul praises his converts in Thessalonica for their fidelity to God and to Christ His Son, and for their practice of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity with the help of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating, “Pay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
With this answer, Jesus reminds his questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord.
We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State and working for the welfare of all citizens. We become Heavenly citizens by obeying God’s laws.
Every three years we are presented with today’s gospel, one that interests many of us because it deals with the question of separation between Church and State.
The first thing we should note is that the question put to Jesus was a lawyer’s trick question. It was not a question that sought enlightenment; it was not put to Jesus in order to learn from Him. No. It was put to Jesus to trap Him.
Was He to be seen as an insurrectionist revolutionary and an enemy of the State or was He to be seen as a collaborator with the hated Roman authorities who so brutalized the Jewish people?
The Pharisees, the religious fundamentalists of the day, hated the Roman tax. The Herodians, those Jews who supported the Roman puppet King Herod, supported the tax.
Both groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, hated each other. But here we find them joined together in a combined effort to trap Jesus, to discredit Him, and thus do away with Him, each trying to trap Jesus for their own reasons.
With a canny response Jesus discredits, them both. Here we find Jesus in His response to their tricky question asking them for a coin, which they gave Him.
Note that both they and Jesus were in the Temple area when this incident took place. Note, also, that the Roman coin had carved upon it the image of the infamous Tiberius Caesar, the one who had so desecrated the Jewish Temple.
The coin also bore the inscription: “Tiberius Caesar – Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the coin’s other side, it designated him as “Pontifex Maximus”, supreme priest. For Jews, this was blasphemous idolatry.
The fact that they had carried that coin with them into the Temple precincts tells us that they thereby discredited themselves. No good Jew would be caught with such a coin on the Temple’s grounds, the holiest site in all of Judaism.
Furthermore, we need to realize that Jesus’ response was directed at the precise issue of whether or not the Roman taxes should be paid. Jesus said nothing about the autonomy of Caesar in his secular role. Nor was Jesus making any statement at all about separating religion from society.
So, these questions remain: What is Caesar’s, and what is God’s? Is there anything at all that is not God’s – is there anything at all in human activity that does not stand under God’s judgment?
Are we, as modern-day Americans, exempting anything from God’s purview? Separation of church and state has benefited us here in the United States. We have a democracy, not a theocracy, and that has served us well.
We do not have a state religion; we have freedom of religion. We are free to practice our religious beliefs as we choose. But where is it written that freedom of religion means freedom from religion?
Are people of faith obliged not to express their beliefs and put them into practice in the public domain? We must remember that while rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s we must still render to God what is God’s.
Freedom of religion isn’t confined to how one worships on Sunday. People of belief should be able to practice in public what they hold to in Sunday worship free of governmental controls and mandates.
What is Caesar’s and what is God’s? The question is just as important to us now as it was when it was put to Jesus. And so is its answer.
So, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: How? It is the duty of Christians, as citizens of the country, to pay for the services and the privileges that government provides, like paved roads, police and fire departments, banks, schools and other necessities.
If we refuse to pay taxes, how will these needs be met? Another way of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is to participate actively in the running of the government, electing the most suitable candidates and influencing them through frequent contacts.
Third, we must submit to the civil authorities and respect the laws of our country in order to live in peace. Be Blessed and be a Blessing. Amen.