18 October: 29th Sunday of Year A.
Fr Martin’s Homily
Isaiah 45: 1,4-6 I Thessalonians 1: 1-5 Matthew 22: 15-21
In today’s first reading, Isaiah the prophet celebrates the role of Cyrus, King of the Persians, in the history of God’s chosen people.
Through his subjugation of Babylon, Cyrus enabled the Judaeans to return to their homeland after the years of exile under Nebuchadnezzar; the ruined city of Jerusalem could be rebuilt with its Temple dedicated to the One God – a task which took many years as the restored city rose from the ground and progressively took on the shape that would become familiar to Our Lord himself, a few centuries later.
When Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and ministered in the Temple Precinct, the city was under Roman domination.
The Babylonians and the Persians were almost forgotten; but the Greeks who succeeded them left an indelible mark upon every walk of Jewish life and now, from the Roman point of view, Jerusalem was no more than a distant outpost within their newly-established Empire. The question of paying tribute to Caesar, the Roman Emperor, was a burning issue for the Jews because the Romans occupying Jerusalem now represented an Empire (as opposed to the Republic that had originally brought them the benefit of Pax Romana).
The exchange between Jesus and a group of Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel shows that Our Lord placed more trust in his Heavenly Father than in Kings or Emperors who might be here today but would certainly be gone tomorrow.
The question of ‘tribute to Caesar’, therefore, was not particularly meaningful where Jesus was concerned. The denarius with which he answers the question about the Tribute or ‘tax’ was a coin of relatively little value in any case. The head imprinted upon it was rather like a distant, barely recognisable god of very questionable divinity – a pagan one at that, never to be seen in Jerusalem.
Jesus, representing the unseen God who Saves, is the only one to have a half-way decent answer to that challenging question about Tribute to Caesar.
The promptness of Our Lord’s reply in today’s Gospel illustrates the divine wisdom with which He lived his life and gave it for others: his reply to the question about the tribute includes the words ‘Give back to God what belongs to God’.
This Gospel episode, like so many others from Christmas on, reveals the glory of the divine Will with which Jesus accepted the harshness of his human condition: a wonderful example for everyone during these trying times of Covid-19.
Jesus never fails to show us where the best Tribute is due – and it might be said that St Paul goes even further in Our Lord’s footsteps as he pays his own tribute to the people of the church in Thessalonica for their faith, hope and love. The Thessalonians were certainly not Emperors, but St Paul was paying them real Tribute – quite different from merely paying ‘tax’.
And even if they weren’t Roman Emperors, they could be regarded as Kings for humanity in the image of Jesus Christ and for the sake of His Gospel. Those early Christians who were so close to Jesus without actually seeing him – though his contemporary St Paul could well have heard him preach – might inspire us in our own struggles as we try and work out how to live our lives for the best over the coming winter.
Fr Martin Gowman
Deacon Tony’s Homily
The story starts with the Jewish Church leaders looking for some way to get rid of Jesus.
- If Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would be accused of being a traitor to the Jews and of being in favour of the Roman occupation.
- If He said it was wrong to pay taxes, then he would prove he was against Rome.
Before he gave an answer, he asked to see a Roman coin, a denarius. He then asked whose image and inscription was on it.
This was a good question, because at that time, anything with a man’s stamp or inscription on it belonged to that man. Therefore, the coin belonged to Caesar. So, if it belongs to Caesar, then give it to him.
But there was another part to the answer. “But also give to God what is God’s.”
But what do we give to God? What is it that has the Stamp or mark of God on it? The answer is we do. We were made in the image of God and we bear his mark.
Yet while the laws of the land should serve to protect our human lives and human future, it does not and cannot support our spiritual life and spiritual future.
That is the job of the church: to support God’s people and to teach them about Him. And to work alongside the government to ensure it acts fairly, justly and in accordance with God’s laws.
It is also right that we should pay for the service that government provides. And if no-one paid anything, where would the hospitals, doctors, teachers and all the other things needed to make life run smoothly come from?
But we also have to give ourselves to God.
Like the Jews, we don’t seem to have a great deal of choice over the government and the way it runs our country. Often it seems as far away and as dictatorial as ancient Rome, a pagan, unscrupulous, virtually unelected government.
And while we get little choice on paying taxes, we do have a totally free choice in what we give to God. Our government may have many tax rates: 10%, 22%, 40% and all varying year by year.
God only has one rate. 100%! We have to give ourselves totally to him, all day, and every day. But there is one major difference in what we pay in taxes and what we pay to God. If we refuse to pay our taxes, then we face a sanction. We may find ourselves in prison or have our belongings taken away from us.
But if we forget to give God his due, he doesn’t send in the bailiffs, he forgives us the debt, he allows us to start again. Giving ourselves to God sounds vague and woolly. What, exactly, does he want from us?
I think that Jesus gave us the answer when he was asked what the most important commandment was. He told us that the most important commandment was to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds and all our strength.
The second commandment was to love one another. We take the commandment to love one another as one of the basic ways to live as a Christian.
But there is no way we can live this way if the very foundation of the way we live is not based on having the love of God at the heart of who we are and in everything we do.
With the love of God as the centre of our beings, then things on this world become less important, as we learn that God’s love is forever. We can still support and pay taxes to a government that provides the framework of modern life. We can still oppose that same government when it works unfairly or unjustly. We can still obey the laws of the land when they work with God’s law and oppose them when they don’t. We can still do all this as long, and only as long, as God comes first.
Remember Jesus’ complete answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and what is God’s to God.”
There was no “either”, no “or”, but “and.”
We have to do both, but God’s law comes first.
So what do we choose?
This world, a place of growing discontent, a place where people put themselves, money and power before the care for others, a place where more and more people seek gratification just for the moment?
Or God’s world, a place where love grows, a place where you are just as valued as your neighbour, a place where we can live in peace and forgive our enemies and be forgiven when we fall.
Deacon Tony Felton