29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
MASS, GOSPEL AND COMMENTARY: “REPAY TO CAESAR…REPAY TO GOD…” (Mt 22:15–21).
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Gospel Commentary from the Pope Benedict XVI
Let us now reflect on the Gospel passage. It is the text about the legitimacy of the tribute to be paid to Caesar which contains Jesus’ famous answer: “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21). But, before reaching this point there is a passage that can be applied to those who have the mission of evangelizing. Indeed, those who are speaking with Jesus — disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians — compliment him, saying “we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man” (v. 16). It is this affirmation itself, although it is prompted by hypocrisy, that must attract our attention. The disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians do not believe in what they say. They are only affirming it as a captatio benevolentiae to make people listen to them, but their heart is far from that truth; indeed, they want to lure Jesus into a trap to be able to accuse him. For us, instead, those words are precious: indeed, Jesus is true and teaches the way of God according to the truth, and stands in awe of none. He himself is that “way of God”, which we are called to take. Here we may recall the words of Jesus himself in John’s Gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14:6).
In this regard St Augustine’s comment is illuminating: “It was necessary for Jesus to say ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, when knowing the way by which he went they had to learn where he was going. The way led to truth, it led to life…. And where are we going, but to him, and by what way do we go, but by him? (In Evangelium Johannis tractatus 69, 2). The new evangelizers are called to walk first on this Way that is Christ, to make others know the beauty of the Gospel that gives life. And on this Way one never walks alone but in company, an experience of communion and brotherhood that is offered to all those we meet, to share with them our experience of Christ and of his Church. Thus testimony combined with proclamation can open the hearts of those who are seeking the truth so that they are able to arrive at the meaning of their own life.
A brief reflection also on the central question of the tribute to Caesar. Jesus replies with a surprising political realism, linked to the theocentrism of the prophetic tradition. The tribute to Caesar must be paid because his image is on the coin; but the human being, every person, carries in him- or herself another image, that of God, and therefore it is to him and to him alone that each one owes his or her existence. The Fathers of the Church, drawing inspiration from the fact that Jesus was referring to the image of the Emperor impressed on the coin of the tribute, interpreted this passage in the light of the fundamental concept of the human being as an image of God, contained in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
An anonymous author wrote: “The image of God is not impressed on gold, but on the human race. Caesar’s coin is gold, God’s coin is humanity…. Therefore give your riches to Caesar but keep for God the unique innocence of your conscience, where God is contemplated…. Caesar, in fact, asked that his image be on every coin, but God chose man, whom he created to reflect his glory” (Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 42). And St Augustine used this reference several times in his homilies: “If Caesar reclaims his own image impressed on the coin”, he says, “will not God demand from man the divine image sculpted within him?” (En. Ps., Psalm 94:2). And further, “as the tribute money is rendered to him [Caesar], so should the soul be rendered to God, illumined and stamped with the light of his countenance” (ibid., Ps 4:8).
This word of Jesus is rich in anthropological content and it cannot be reduced only to the political context. The Church, therefore, is not limited to reminding human beings of the right distinction between the sphere of Caesar’s authority and that of God, between the political and religious contexts. The mission of the Church, like that of Christ, is essentially to speak of God, to remember his sovereignty, to remind all, especially Christians who have lost their own identity, of the right of God to what belongs to him, that is, our life.
Dear brethren in Christ, let us end this commentary with these words of St. Augustine: “As Caesar seeks his image on his coin, so God seeks his in your soul. “Give to Caesar, he says, what is Caesar’s.” What does Caesar ask of you? His image. What is God asking of you? His image. But Caesar’s is in the coin, God’s is in you. If you ever lose a coin, you cry because you lost the image of Caesar; And don’t you cry when, by worshiping an idol, you know that you are destroying the image of God in you? “(Sermon 113, A, 7-8).”
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TOPIC: WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG TO YOU?
By asking Jesus – “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 15:17), the Pharisees and Herodians were hoping to pin him down for “pretending” to be who He was not. If Jesus answered “Yes,” he will alienate the people who hated the taxes they pay. If He answered “No,” the Romans will arrest Him for sedition. Either answer will bring Him down, or so they thought. And Jesus’ answer that reverberates till today was “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 15:21)
Oct. 18, 2020: HOLY MASS