Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Then the Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap him 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’. This reply took them by surprise, and they left him alone and went away.
Members remain standing while the Gospel is read. After the Gospel is read, members kiss the Gospel and are seated. After an appropriate period of reflection, members are invited to share their own lights from the Holy Spirit in relation to this Gospel passage. The secretary synthesizes reflections into a brief summary for the team.
(30 minutes) See monthly schedule
The Better Part
Consider privately reflecting on the corresponding chapter from The Better Part by Fr. John Bartunek, LC, ThD during the week.
Unit #68 – “Foiled Again” – Matthew 22:15-21
“Alas for the soul which has not Christ for its Lord dwelling in it, for when it is deserted and filled with the stench of passions it becomes a den of vice.” St Macarius
Christ as Lord
Jesus is master of every situation. He recognizes hypocrisy and exposes it with the floodlight of truth. He steadfastly faces his enemies courageously, knowing well what they seek – to discredit him in the eyes of the people – but taking their challenge and beating them at their own game. In encounters like this the Gospel reveals the power of Christ’s personality, the immense force of his intelligence, the piercing lucidity of his wisdom: such is the Son of God made man, such is this man who has called us by name and invited us to follow him.
Nevertheless, St Matthew continues to highlight Jesus’ refusal to humiliate his enemies utterly (which they deserved) or violate their freedom by forcing their allegiance; he keeps on inviting them to believe in him. Bearing with the hypocritical Pharisees yet again, he puts up with their underhanded ruse and gives a response that stirs even their hardened hearts to admiration. His language is no longer soft (he calls them hypocrites), because time is running short, but he still hasn’t given up on them. Again we see that the Lord of the universe is truly the Good Shepherd, no matter how stubborn the sheep.
Christ as Teacher
The lesson he taught his enemies twenty centuries ago still abides today: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Every Christian holds dual citizenship, each with its own benefits and duties: our birth made us citizens of an earthly nation; our baptism made us citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. Christ commands us to live out both with justice and responsibility. The protection and public services rendered us by the political community rightly demand a response of obedience, gratitude, and active collaboration. A Christian should be the most engaged and dependable of citizens – unless of course Caesar tries to claim rights that belong only to God.
A less obvious lesson also emerges from this encounter. The opposition against Jesus is increasing. The Pharisees join forces with the Herodians; the former disapproved of paying taxes to Rome and still pursued political independence for Israel, while the latter were loyal to the Empire. That two such disparate parties come together against Jesus shows the magnitude of his threat to the sinful status quo. This pattern of growing opposition is repeated wherever Christian holiness thrives; the lives of the saints and the history of the Church reproduce it again and again, like an ever-expanding crystal. It embodies the last and greatest of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:10). If Christ was a sign of contradiction in a self-centered world, authentic Christians will be too.
Christ as Friend
The coin belongs to Caesar, but what exactly belongs to God? Do we owe any taxes to the heavenly IRS? All that we are and all that we possess has come to us from God. Just as the Roman coin bears the image of the Emperor who made it, so the human soul bears the “image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26) of God who calls each of us into existence so as to live in personal communion with him. “Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #44) Freely living by our bond with God means living as he created us to live, and he has shown us how to do that by sending us his Son, the model of every Christian life, the Friend of every human soul. Ignoring God, making our decisions and living out our relationships as if he were far away and uninterested – this would be a kind of spiritual thievery, like stealing the Emperor’s coins. Would I be so ungrateful?
Christ in my Life
I am glad to be your follower, Lord. You are the fount of wisdom and life, the source of every good thing. You have called me by name. You hold me in existence. You give me work to do in your Kingdom, the work of love, self-giving, and self-sacrifice. Teach me your wisdom, Lord; teach me your love”
How easily I lose patience! You continue to converse with your enemies, you continue to teach your Apostles, you continue to heal the sick and suffering crowds – your heart is an inexhaustible fountain of goodness. Come with your grace to make my heart like that. With the patience of your heart, bear with my stubborn heart, and teach me to love my brothers and sisters as you have loved me”
This world offers me so many opportunities for doing good. Nothing is perfect here, not the Church, not the political community, not my local community, not my family. Why am I so blind to the needs around me? Why is my sphere of interest so reduced? Remind me of my mission in life, Lord. I am not the Savior of the world, but I am his disciple; show me what more I can do to build your Kingdom”
Questions for Discussion
- What struck you most about this passage? What did you notice that you hadn’t noticed before?
- What does it mean to be responsible citizens of our country and of this world? How can we fulfill this duty more completely?
- What does it mean to be a responsible citizen of Heaven? How can we fulfill this duty more completely?
- How should Christians respond when a society’s laws overstep their rightful limits and infringe upon the law of God, trying to claim for the State what rightly belongs to God?
- If a non-believer asked you what Christians think of politics, how would you answer?