Sunday Homily: Give to Caesar What Belongs to Caesar

Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time Cycle A

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Isaiah 45:1,4-6
Psalm 96:1,3,4-5,7-8,9-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21

In the Gospel, Jesus has already made his royal entry into Jerusalem, asserted his authority over the Temple, and judged the leaders of the temple, who prevented the Temple from being a house of prayer. When the chief priests and elders ask him, “By what authority are you doing these things?”, Jesus responds with three parables.

In the first, Jesus compares the chief priests and elders to a son who says that he will work in his father’s vineyard but then does not go. In the second, they are compared to wicked tenants, who maltreat and kill the landowner’s servants and son. In the third, they are like a wedding guest who is improperly dressed for the feast. The chief priests and elders, like the son, are not fulfilling the will of God; like the wicked tenant, they are plotting to kill God’s only begotten Son, and, like the man without a wedding garment, they are not clothed with works of justice, righteousness, and charity. Jesus is warning them that they have been judged and are about to be cast out into the darkness.

This leads the Pharisees to plot once again how to trap Jesus in his speech. They have their disciples present a dilemma to him that can’t be solved with a simple yes or no. If Jesus says that it is lawful to pay the census tax, then he will appear to be a Roman sympathizer and will discredit himself in the eyes of the Jews who saw the Roman rule of Judea as an unacceptable and intolerable burden. If Jesus says that it is not lawful to pay the tax, then the Herodians will report him to the Roman authorities for instigating a tax revolt (see C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 285).

Jesus knows that they are testing him and asks them to show him a coin for the census tax. “By producing the coin used for the taxes, the Pharisees are publicly exposed as hypocrites. They may oppose Roman taxation in principle, but apparently they are in the habit of paying it just like every other Palestinian Jew” (see C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 285).

On the one side, the coin, had the words “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the other side, it declares Tiberius to be “High Priest”. It is ironic that the coin, with these two inscriptions, is being shown to the one who is truly the Son of God and the Eternal High Priest.

Jesus is able to avoid the trap of the Pharisees by making a distinction between political obligations and religious obligations. “Paying taxes is not a compromise of one’s duties toward God, nor does serving God exempt one from supporting the civil government. But this is not all the statement reveals, for Jesus implicitly subordinates the claims of Caesar to the claims of God. If the Roman coin bears Caesar’s image, then it belongs to him and should be given back to him. But what is it that ‘belongs to God’? It is the human person, who bears the image of the living God (Gen 1:26-27)” (see C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 286).

Saint Paul alludes to this truth in the Letter to the Thessalonians: we are loved by God and chosen by him before the foundation of the world for salvation and divine sonship. We desire God, for we are created by him and for him and he never ceases to draw us to himself. Only in him will we find the truth and happiness we never stop searching for (CCC, 27). In this life we are called live by faith, persevere in hope and to grow in love. We are ordered to God and destined for eternal beatitude. God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise. Beatitude makes us ‘sharers of the divine nature’ and of eternal life. With beatitude, we enter into the glory of Christ and the joy of Trinitarian life (see CCC, 1721).

Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at

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Jason Mitchell

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