POPE FRANCIS’ REFLECTION ON THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
Saint Peter’s Square
Sunday, 22 October 2023
Dear brothers and sisters, buongiorno!
The Gospel of today’s Liturgy tells us about some pharisees who join with the Herodians to set a trap for Jesus. They were always trying to set traps for Him. They go to Him and ask: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Mt 22:17). It is a ruse: if Jesus legitimizes the tax, He places Himself on the side of a political power that is ill-supported by the people, whereas if He says not to pay it, He can be accused of rebellion against the empire. A veritable trap. However, He escapes this snare. He asks them to show Him a coin, which bears the image of Caesar, and says to them: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21). What does this mean?
These words of Jesus have become commonplace, but at times they have been used incorrectly – or at least reductively – to talk about the relations between Church and State, Christians and politics; often they are interpreted as though Jesus wanted to separate “Caesar” from “God”, that is, earthly from spiritual reality. At times we too think in this way: faith with its practices is one thing, and daily life is another. And this will not do. No. This is a form of “schizophrenia”, as if faith had nothing to do with real life, with the challenges of society, with social justice, with politics and so forth.
In reality, Jesus wants to help us place “Caesar” and “God” each in their proper place. The care for earthly order belongs to Caesar – that is, to politics, to civil institutions, to social and economic processes, and we who are immersed in this reality must give back to society what it offers us, through our contribution as responsible citizens, taking care of what is entrusted to us, promoting law and justice in the world of work, paying our taxes honestly, committing ourselves to the common good, and so on. At the same time, though, Jesus affirms the fundamental reality: that man belongs to God: all of man and every human being. And this means that we do not belong to any earthly reality, to any “Caesar”. We are the Lord’s, and we must not be slaves to any earthly power. On the coin, then, there is the image of the emperor, but Jesus reminds us that our lives are imprinted with the image of God, which nothing and no-one can obscure. The things of this world belong to Caesar, but man and the world itself belong to God: do not forget this!
We understand, then, that Jesus is restoring each one of us to his or her own identity: on the coin of this world there is the image of Caesar, but you – each one of us – which image do you carry within yourself? Let us ask ourselves this question: what image do I carry inside myself? You – whose is the image of your life? Do we remember that we belong to the Lord, or do we let ourselves be shaped by the logic of the world and make work, politics and money our idols to be worshipped?
May the Holy Virgin help us to recognize and honour our dignity and that of every human being.
ANGELUS ADDRESS, 18 October 2020
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
This Sunday’s Gospel reading (see Mt 22:15-21) shows us Jesus struggling with the hypocrisy of His adversaries. They pay Him many compliments – at the beginning, many compliments – but then ask an insidious question to put Him in trouble and discredit Him before the people. They ask him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17), that is, to pay their taxes to the emperor. At that time, in Palestine, the domination of the Roman Empire was poorly tolerated – and it is understandable, they were invaders – also for religious reasons. For the people, the worship of the emperor, underscored also by his image on coins, was an insult to the God of Israel. Jesus’ interlocutors are convinced that there is no alternative to their questioning: either a “yes” or a “no”. They were waiting, precisely because they were sure to back Jesus into a corner with this question, and to make Him fall in the trap. But He knows their wickedness and avoids the pitfall. He asks them to show Him the coin, the coin of the taxes, takes it in His hands and asks whose is the imprinted image. They answer that it is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor’s. Then Jesus replies: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21).
With this reply, Jesus places Himself above the controversy. Jesus, always above. On the one hand, He acknowledges that the tribute to Caesar must be paid – for all of us too, taxes must be paid – because the image on the coin is his; but above all He recalls that each person carries within him another image – we carry it in the heart, in the soul – that of God, and therefore it is to Him, and to Him alone, that each person owes his own existence, her own life.
In this sentence of Jesus we find not only the criterion for the distinction between the political sphere and the religious sphere; clear guidelines emerge for the mission of all believers of all times, even for us today. To pay taxes is a duty of citizens, as is complying with the just laws of the state. At the same time, it is necessary to affirm God’s primacy in human life and in history, respecting God’s right over all that belongs to Him.
Hence the mission of the Church and Christians: to speak of God and bear witness to Him to the men and women of our time. Every one of us, by Baptism, is called to be a living presence in society, inspiring it with the Gospel and with the lifeblood of the Holy Spirit. It is a question of committing oneself with humility, and at the same time with courage, making one’s own contribution to building the civilisation of love, where justice and fraternity reign.
May Mary Most Holy help us all to flee from all hypocrisy and to be honest and constructive citizens. And may she sustain us disciples of Christ in the mission to bear witness that God is the centre and the meaning of life.
SOURCE: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2020/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20201018.html EMPHASIS MINE.
22 October 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 22:15-21) presents to us a new face-to-face encounter between Jesus and his adversaries. The theme addressed is that of the tribute to Caesar: a “thorny” issue about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, to whom Palestine was subject in Jesus’ time. There were various positions. Thus, the question that the Pharisees posed to him — “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 17) — was meant to ensnare the Teacher. In fact, depending on how he responded, he could have been accused of being either for or against Rome.
But in this case too, Jesus responds calmly and takes advantage of the malicious question in order to teach an important lesson, rising above the polemics and the alliance of his adversaries. He tells the Pharisees: “Show me the money for the tax”. They present him a coin, and, observing the coin, Jesus asks: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”. The Pharisees can only answer: “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus concludes: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (cf. vv. 19-21). On the one hand, suggesting they return to the emperor what belongs to him, Jesus declares that paying tax is not an act of idolatry, but a legal obligation to the earthly authority; on the other — and it is here that Jesus presents the “thrust” of his response: recalling the primacy of God, he asks them to render to Him that which is His due as the Lord of the life and history of mankind.
The reference to Caesar’s image engraved on the coin says that it is right that they feel fully — with rights and duties — citizens of the State; but symbolically it makes them think about the other image that is imprinted on every man and woman: the image of God. He is the Lord of all, and we, who were created “in his image” belong to Him first and foremost. From the question posed to him by the Pharisees, Jesus draws a more radical and vital question for each of us, a question we can ask ourselves: to whom do I belong? To family, to the city, to friends, to work, to politics, to the State? Yes, of course. But first and foremost — Jesus reminds us — you belong to God. This is the fundamental belonging. It is He who has given you all that you are and have. And therefore, day by day, we can and must live our life in recognition of this fundamental belonging and in heartfelt gratitude toward our Father, who creates each one of us individually, unrepeatable, but always according to the image of his beloved Son, Jesus. It is a wondrous mystery.
Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in the human and social spheres without comparing “God” and “Caesar”; comparing God and Caesar would be a fundamentalist approach. Christians are called to commit themselves concretely in earthly realities, but illuminating them with the light that comes from God. The primary entrustment to God and hope in him do not imply an escape from reality, but rather the diligent rendering to God that which belongs to him. This is why a believer looks to the future reality, that of God, so as to live earthly life to the fullest, and to meet its challenges with courage.
May the Virgin Mary help us to always live in conformity with the image of God that we bear within us, inside, also offering our contribution to the building of the earthly city.
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