29th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Cycle A | 22 October 2017
Is. 45: 1; 4-6
Thes. 1: 1-5
Mt. 22: 15-21
INTRODUCTION: Our Gospel for today contains one of Jesus’ greatest one liners: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (v.. 21) This rejoinder has inspired an enormous amount of controversy over the centuries. Before going to controversies, let me first deal about the context of this saying of Jesus.
(1) As we may have noticed in MT’s Gospel over these past several weeks, the Pharisees and Jesus have been getting at each others’ back. These Pharisees were advocates of religious rectitude and an uncompromising living-out of the Old Testament Laws, especially those dealing with religious purity.
Jesus without denying any of these represented something different, making plain the heart of the Law, which is living in friendship with God — a relationship which he characterized as “the Reign/Kingdom of God.” We are meant to see here a contrast between two visions of religion. As a result, the Pharisees are out to get him.
As the story opens, they concocted a very clever plot. They sent their representatives to Jesus along with a group of Herodians, Jews sympathetic to Herod, the client King of Israel, who were like the pro-Roman political establishment. In the presence of these politicos, the Pharisees asked Jesus about the legitimacy of the census tax being paid to the Roman Emperor.
Either way, they have him! If he says yes, then he alienates his own followers whom he had evangelized to a different view of things as of the Kingdom. If he says no, then the Herodians will report him as seditious and a rebel. Jesus in his infinite depthness avoids the question and evades the horns of his dilemma.
(2) Note the meanness of a lot of religious people! Up and down the centuries, people talk about the special sort of hatred that religious people can muster (odium theologi- cum). They hate for theological reasons! One has a different religious opinion than mine and I want to destroy him from killing him to destroying his reputation. This is very rampant in religious circles! If you doubt, just look at articles in periodicals and on websites.
Bottom line Principle: you can’t serve the God of Love by hating people! By the very fact of hating, you undermine the God you are trying to proclaim! This is the problem with the Pharisees: out of hatred for Jesus, they were up to destroy him, even if at the beginning they were trying to flatter him! That is why Jesus did not want to honor or cooperate with the question of the Pharisees. He knows that this is not an honest theological question. He does not play their game!
(3) Jesus gives a “both… and…” response to a question that was forcing him to give an “either… or…” Sometimes, questions are “either. . . or. . .” even in the spiritual order. Have you done your assignment or not? Is God your ultimate concern or not? More often than not, theological and spiritual questions invite a “both. . . and” answers. Why? The answers to these questions are not that simple.
One of those areas is the relation between Church and State or between religion and politics. We have been fighting over this in all centuries of Church life. What is clear here is that there is a legitimate distinction between the spiritual and the temporal. Government and governors have a legitimate sphere of influence and operations. Neither the Pharisees of old nor the priests of the present should be government officials.
Pope Benedict in his talk in Regensburg has pointed out that Christianity at its best has never derived the particulars of political law from the data of Revelation but from the practice of Roman Law and from reflection of Greek Philosophy. To some degree, there is a legitimate independent functioning of Government apart from the Church. In the ultimate scheme of things, everything belongs to God, the Creator, including Caesar! Everything including this legitimate independent functioning of Government, falls under the aegis of God and his commandment.
CONCLUSION: Here is something of the complex answer to this question posed to Jesus not as “either… or…” but “both…and!”
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches