Sunday Sipping: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21

Premise 1: “… repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Premise 2: Caesar is dead.
Premise 3: Debts owed to the dead are absolved.
Conclusion: Repay nothing to Caesar

Aside from the aforementioned ridiculousness, we can come to a better understanding of the Christian notion of authority from this Sunday’s readings. In the Gospel, the Pharisee disciples and Herodians attempt to entrap Jesus by asking Him if it’s lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not. Jesus sees through their ruse and knows that if He were to say a flat out yes or no, He’d be in trouble. If He said yes it’s lawful, the Jews would have been angry with Him, and if He said no, Jesus would have incurred Roman wrath. So what does he do? Jesus answers their question with a question of His own. Referring to the coin used to pay the tax, Jesus asks His interrogators, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” The questioners reply, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus responds with one of His most famous sayings: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Contrary to the argument I stated at the beginning of this reflection, the Caesar that Jesus refers not merely to the Roman emperor of the time, but rather the powers that be in our world. By saying that one should repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, Jesus is acknowledging that there can be legitimate authority that people should respect and obey that isn’t necessarily or explicitly religious in nature. And why is this so? Well, it’s because all legitimate authority ultimately derives its power from God. We see this idea presented in the first reading from Isaiah, which speaks of Cyrus the Great, a Persian king, who is said to be anointed by God. The Lord gave Cyrus power over his enemies and called Cyrus by name, giving him a title (i.e. authority), though he did not know God.

It’s good to acknowledge the presence of legitimate authority exercised by humans, but we must never forget the latter part of Jesus’ saying. Giving to God what belongs to God puts our giving to Caesar in a proper perspective. Paying one’s dues to legitimate obligations in the world is a good thing, though far too many think it’s the only thing that is worthwhile. Hint: it isn’t. Look in the mirror. Whose image is this and whose inscription? God’s. We belong to Him, brothers and sisters. We are made in His image. His law of love is inscribed in our hearts, and so naturally all that we are, in life and in death, should be paid back to Him. In light of this fact, let us strive this week to examine our priorities and responsibilities, placing them in the proper perspective and ordering them all toward the glory of God. A richly blessed Sunday to you all!