29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 22nd October 2017

Whom did I choose?

First Reading

Isaiah 45:1,4-6

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whom he has taken by his right hand
to subdue nations before him
and strip the loins of kings,
to force gateways before him
that their gates be closed no more:
‘It is for the sake of my servant Jacob,
of Israel my chosen one,
that I have called you by your name,
conferring a title though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, unrivalled;
there is no other God besides me.
Though you do not know me, I arm you
that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
that, apart from me, all is nothing.’

Second Reading

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

From Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace.
We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ.
We know, brothers, that God loves you and that you have been chosen, because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Whom did I choose?”

by Fr Lukasz Nawrat

Even knowing who Jesus was and that he was not afraid of any authority, the Pharisees still try to put Jesus to the test. They are desperately trying to get something against him, to catch him out on something that he says, so as to get rid of him and of his teaching which is challenging for them.

But Jesus knows the hearts and intentions of people, and He can prevent wrongdoing.

The short dialogue between the followers of the Pharisees and Jesus shows us God’s way of life. It invites us to reflect on our own relationship with God. Perhaps also like the Pharisees, I am putting God to the test, trying to get him to do my will, to do things my way, closing myself to a different.

Sometimes I catch myself asking God for things that I do not really need or want, but because of being blindly focus on them, I lose the wider perspective and I challenge God.

Jesus has an answer and gives us very simple and practical advice: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what belongs to God.” It is a challenging invitation which for many people might be difficult in following. And in life, it is very easy indeed to mix God and money.

In a different passage from the Gospel, Jesus warns us to be careful and attentive, because we cannot serve two masters. We need to choose one. God or money. We cannot serve both at the same time.

I invite you today to find a quiet moment to find an answer to some questions.
Which one of these two, God or money, did I choose for myself?
Has the choice, which I have made, make me a better person?
A happier person?
A free person?
Am I a person who dedicates time to others?
A person available for others?
A listener?
A person who shares?
Am I a person who prays?

I know, however, from my own experience, that this is not an easy task. Each day I need to challenge myself so as to choose God repeatedly. It is not a once-off of decision, but a continuous one. So be courageous and patient with yourself and with God.

May the Lord give you light in your life. May He guide and protect you. May He always bless you. Amen.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

To the people of today, Jesus’ reply may seem a good one and an obvious one. The truth is that, in a few words and with much good sense, Jesus resolved a rather thorny issue. The Pharisees who asked him if it were permissible to pay tax knew well that they were setting a trap for him. If he said ‘yes’ he would earn the disapproval of the more patriotic among his listeners, and the condemnation of the more devout. None of them wanted to acknowledge any ruler on earth that came before God.  If, on the other hand, he said ‘no’ he could be reported to the authorities as a dangerous social agitator. Jesus recognised their malice immediately, but he limited himself to pointing out their inconsistency. By using a coin to pay tax, they were acknowledging the authority of the one who imposed the tax.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

After a long hard discourse composed of three parables, in which Jesus justified his authority in the Temple (Mt 21, 23), Matthew now narrates three arguments Jesus had with different groups of Jewish leaders. The atmosphere is one of opposition. Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees all test Jesus with various delicate and difficult questions.

Our text presents the first of these, strictly political in nature but with religious implications – is it permissible to pay tax to Caesar? Jewish society was divided on the question. It is significant that they came together to create difficulty for Jesus. The Herodians were strongly in favour of paying the tax. The Pharisees agreed to pay it in order to avoid trouble. The question itself is a trap, pure and simple. That is how it is presented by the evangelist and that is how it was uncovered by Jesus. They are not seeking advice as to what they should do. All they wanted was to create trouble for Jesus. The tax had been introduced by the Roman invaders twenty-five years previously. It was the equivalent of one day’s wages and every adult Jew was obliged to pay it once a year. To deny the obligation to pay the tax constituted a crime of rebellion against the emperor. If Jesus recommended payment of the tax, he would be going against the nationalist and religious sentiment of the people. They believed they were subject only to their Lord and God. Payment of the tax had already caused popular insurrections brutally repressed by the Romans, and would cause others in the future.

The question was put to Jesus in a respectful manner and with obvious oriental courtesy, but it was ill-intentioned nonetheless. For that reason, Jesus’ reply is blunt in its simplicity. If they allow Caesar to mint coins, and if they use these coins in everyday life, they are in effect recognising his authority. What further recognition does payment of the annual tax add to this? Without going into the question or offering a solution that might have caused further difficulties, Jesus escapes from the ill-will of his opponents. He changed the perspective completely by adding that they should pay God what was due to God. This was not in the original question, but it is the key to understanding Jesus’ position. It is easy to give back what belongs to someone else, but how do we satisfy our debt to God?  Political masters are satisfied with their money. We owe everything to God. Nothing less is worthy of him.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

In the difficult political situation brought about by the recent Roman occupation, it would have been very unpopular not to show patriotic support. Jesus was aware immediately of the malice of his opponents. By making use of the coin to pay tax, they were in effect recognising the authority.  It is more important to remain subject to the sovereign power of God than to resist a human power that will not last forever, and which, in practice, they were already helping to maintain.  They must give to God all that belongs to him. Jesus’ answer re-establishes this principle, almost imperceptibly, by passing from the political question to a religious one.  What we owe Caesar is not important. What really matters is what we owe God. By paying God his due, we acknowledge him as the giver of all we have.

Jesus’ reply could seem to be a subterfuge to avoid a difficult question, but in fact it is consistent with his conduct and his preaching.  The freedom that Jesus showed regarding social issues is not due to a lack of concern on his part, but to his passion for God and his Kingdom.  When we know how much we are indebted to God, other debts weigh less upon us. Belonging to God’s kingdom does not exempt us from the authority of Caesar, but God and his Kingdom must always take first place, because we owe everything to God.

What is important to Jesus’ way of thinking, is not opposition to an earthly power that will not last, and that they already recognise by obeying its laws and support with their taxes.  What is decisive for Jesus is to acknowledge that we are children of God whose sovereignty does not depend on our contribution and is not diminished by our refusal.

As people living in a democratic society, we find it hard to understand the risk Jesus was taking in responding to such a compromising question. In those days, the Jews felt that their country had been unjustly conquered by a foreign power, and worst of all, a pagan power.  Their taxes were helping to support a foreign war and they were governed by laws that were not from God. Anyone who recognised the authority of the Romans was considered a traitor to his country and to God. Jesus accepted the authority of Caesar without question, but he considered it only partial. It was right to give Caesar what belonged to him, but only what belonged to him.

In its simplicity Jesus’ response left his opponents no room to object.  They posed a political question. He replaced it with a religious one. They were asking Jesus how they should relate to the political authorities. He was more concerned about their relationship with God. Giving God what belongs to him is an open-ended task, one that can never be met fully. Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar is simply a matter of paying a debt. There is no need to fear the authority when the debt has been paid, but we are always indebted to God from whom we have received everything. No matter how much we give God, it will never be enough, because everything we have comes from him.

We owe God all he has given us.  We can never escape from God. When we thank him for his gifts we are merely acknowledging his goodness towards us.  If we fail to thank him, our debt of gratitude remains. Social obligations are prescribed by law and failure to meet them is penalized. The debt we owe to God is one that can never be fully repaid.  But the primacy of God and our perpetual indebtedness to him, far from depriving us of liberty, make us truly free in the best possible way. Nobody can enslave a Christian who is God’s faithful servant. Nobody can expect, much less demand, absolute fidelity, except the One who is absolutely faithful and capable of fulfilling his pledge.

The person who accepts the absolute primacy of God in his life will have no difficulty in recognising different forms of slavery. Paying tribute to others will not prove excessively burdensome. Believers who recognise the priority of God in their lives, are able to submit to other authorities without compromising their radical obedience to God, and without losing their interior freedom. It is enough for them to know that they are indebted to God for all that they are and all that they have.  Those who recognise that they belong totally to God will not feel deprived when they give God all that is his due, and they will live with a sense of being loved, knowing that they are in the hands of God.

Jesus’ apparent lack of interest in the whole question of paying tax should make us think. Not many people enjoy paying tax, especially if it has to be paid to a foreign power.  But if someone is totally in love with God, as Jesus was, and accepts that he owes God everything, then the paying of tax becomes a matter of less importance. If, like Jesus, we see all our duties, including our civil obligations, in the light of our duties to God, then we will feel completely free, even when it comes to paying tribute to whoever has the right to demand it.

The freedom that comes from recognising the absolute sovereignty of God is not an evasion of our social responsibilities. In civil society there are rights to be respected, duties to be fulfilled, and taxes to be paid. Avoiding tax or seeking a higher salary does not make us better Christians. Giving God his due should not lead to a lack of concern for society. Promoting a more human society in loyal cooperation with the authorities is a matter of personal justice which obliges every believer. If we deny what is due to Caesar, we also deny our obligations before God. Precisely because we are obliged to give God what is due to him, we must also give to others something of what God has given us. We witness to God’s primacy in our lives by the effort we make daily to contribute usefully to society.

As Christians we obey Caesar, but not because we fear his authority. We do not feel oppressed when we have to obey the laws of society. We serve God because we love him and his authority. We express our thanks to him by doing his will. We argue about our duty to Caesar only when it interferes with our obedience to God. Otherwise we give each his due, by loyal obedience and exact cooperation with the authorities, and by our complete recognition and total worship of God.

PRAYER

Almighty, ever-living God,
make us ever obey you willingly and promptly.
Teach us how to serve you
with sincere and upright hearts
in every sphere of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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