Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2020
Tiempo de lectura aprox: 2 minutos, 37 segundos
Give Back to Caesar What is Caesar’s
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt you had everything under control? You were calling the shots. Things looked good for you. You were on top of the world. And suddenly, things began to fall apart. You were no longer in control. Worse still, you are asked to do stuff that are against your sense of ethics, your value system. Perhaps this was the kind of situation the Pharisees and the Herodians found themselves in today’s Gospel from Matthew 22:15-22. In a bid to regain control, they went for the kill, they went for Jesus, setting trap for His fall.
We can look at the Gospel reading from that angle. But I would like us to reflect on three meanings of the text – give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God. To appreciate this text, it is important that we understand what paying of taxes to the Romans meant to the Jews. For the Jews, their Land, Temple, people and story were sacred. Therefore, paying of taxes to the Romans was a sacrilege. It was a reminder of the reign of foreign powers in their Land and their sins against God. This was a corruption of their story.
But they had another problem. It was Jesus. He was not saying what they wanted to hear, nor was He complying with their own understanding of the Torah. They were afraid His teaching may cause another uprising and result in another Roman invasion of their Land. Besides, they did not trust Jesus. They saw Him as a controversial figure. They wanted Him gone as much as they wanted the Romans gone. Jesus saw through their fears, their hypocrisy. On the one hand they did not want the Romans, on the other they used the Roman currency for trade.
By asking for the money they used in paying taxes, Jesus was playing to them their hypocrisy. He was saying, you use this coin to get for yourselves what you want, but you do not want to pay for the minting of the coin. This brings us to meaning number one of the text …give back to Caesar… It means the paying of taxes does not compromise our duties towards God, nor does serving God exempt us from supporting the government that provides us jobs, security etc. Our baptism does not only summon us to worship God, it also calls us to be good citizens.
Thus, the implication of Jesus statement … give back to Caesar… was a test of their faith in God. For if their faith in God was real, they would not have hated the Romans the way they did – no matter how evil the Romans might have been. They would have been meek, that is, they would have patiently waited on God amid their afflictions and refrained from responding in anger and bitterness towards the Romans. As Curtis Mitch et al says, they would have relied on God, not on their own strength to set things right, which was what God was doing in Jesus.
This brings us to meaning number two. They are to give back to Caesar all that represents Caesar: anger, hatred, tax extortion, greed, and all forms of evil. This act of giving back does not mean to repay Caesar in his own coins. Rather as Douglas R. A. Hares puts it, it means to give up Caesar’s tactics. The more they focus on Caesar the more likely they will end up like Caesar. So Christ was saying – let go of Caesar. Let go of his evil. Focus on God. What matters is to live in accordance with the Father’s will – to give ourselves back to God, our Creator.
The third meaning is more metaphysical. When Jesus asked whose head was on the coin, and what inscription was written on it, Jesus was asking the ownership question. The coin was owned by Caesar. His image and inscription were on it. In the same vein, Tertullian and his contemporaries argued that we are all God’s coins. We bear His image. And God will see to our future. He will protect us far better than Caesar protected his coins if we acknowledge who we are and live accordingly. Jesus wanted them to know who they were – God’s children.
Jesus was reminding them of the famous Greek saying – Know thyself. For our failure to know ourselves as created beings makes it nearly impossible to know others, understand their story and work with them. It puts us in a disadvantaged position and makes it possible for others take advantage of us. Perhaps this was the problem of the Pharisees and the Herodians. For if they had known what it means to be God’s children, they would not have felt threatened by Caesar’s evil. Likewise, if we know who we truly are, we will not be afraid of the evil that threatens us.