God’s currency

Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, October 22, 2023

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Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 10.19.2023).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, October 22, 2023

1) Taxes to the State, man to God.

The context of the Gospel of this 29th Sunday concerns Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees and Herodians who set a trap for him by asking him a question about the taxes to be paid to the Romans. Under the appearance of fidelity to the law of God or that of the Roman Emperor, they seek reasons to accuse him. If, to their question “Is it lawful, yes or not, to pay tax to Caesar, the emperor?” », Jesus replies: “You must pay”, they could, with the people, accuse him of being a friend of the Romans. If the Messiah gives the answer: “You must not pay,” they could accuse him of being a revolutionary to the Roman authorities. Finally, they want to put him in a situation that the Pharisees think is hopeless. On the contrary, Christ finds a way out by answering Caesar’s question of taxes with surprising political realism. The tax must be paid to the Emperor because the effigy on the currency is that of the Emperor. But, man, each human being, carries within himself the image of God and it is therefore to him and to him alone that everyone must “pay” the tax because he is the debtor of his own existence.
In his response: “Render therefore to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and to God the things which are God’s”, Christ does not remain only on a political level but clearly affirms that what matters most is the Kingdom of God. The words of Christ illuminate the course of action of the Christian in the world. Faith does not ask him to marginalize himself from temporal realities, rather it becomes for him a greater stimulation so that he generously commits to transforming them from within by contributing to the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven.
So if the first reflection that comes from reading today’s Gospel is that the Messiah does not oppose the State to God and says to contribute to the common good also by paying taxes, because the » living together» requires solidarity, the second reflection that comes to mind is that the phrase «Render therefore to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s» does not only oppose Caesar to God (or man or God) nor does Caesar juxtapose with God (and man and God), but it is as if he were saying «Give to man what is man’s so that he can feel and experience the joy of giving to God what is God’s.”
Referring to the effigy of Caesar printed on the currency that the Pharisees and Herodians speak of, Jesus reminds them and us that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that if their taxes go to Caesar , their life belongs to God. Jesus starts from the duty to return the money to Caesar, whose image is printed on the metal, to arrive at the obligation to return man to God, whose image is “imprinted” in human nature. It is just to return to Caesar the coin that bears his image, and it is just to return to God the man made in his image.
In proposing these reflections I put myself in the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, one of whom wrote: “The image of God is not printed on gold, but on the human race. Caesar’s currency is gold, God’s is humanity… So give your material wealth to Caesar but reserve for God the unique innocence of your conscience where God is contemplated… Caesar, in fact, wanted his image on every currency, but God chose the man he created to reflect his glory” (Anonymous, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 42). Saint Augustine used this reference several times in his homilies: “If Caesar demands his own image printed on the currency, will he not demand God from man the divine image sculpted in him? » (Ennarrationes in psalmos, psalm 94.2). And again: “As we give back the coin to Caesar, we give back to God the soul illuminated and imprinted by the light of his face… Christ, in fact, lives inside man” (Ibid. .., psalm 4,8). Because man is not only reducible to materiality but it is the spiritual dimension which constitutes the dominant dimension of each existence.

2) Return man to God.

By ordering the tax to be paid to Caesar, Jesus Christ recognizes civil power and its rights, but he also clearly reminds us that we must respect the superior rights of God (cf. Con Vat. II, Dignitatis humanae, 8). By saying, “Render to God the things that are God’s,” the Messiah clearly teaches that what matters most is the Kingdom of God.
So, if, on the one hand, in the light of the gospel which relates this diatribe on the tax to be given to Caesar (cf Mk 12,13-17; Mt 22,15-22; Lc 20,20-26 ), Christians recognize and respect the distinction and autonomy of the State, considering it a great progress of humanity and a fundamental condition for the same freedom of the Church and for the realization of its universal mission of saving all peoples, on the other hand, believers in Christ take seriously the command to restore to God what is God’s, that is to say everything: «because the earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains” (1Cor 10,26). Let us give back to God our loved ones, our neighbor, all men by honoring them, taking care of them like a precious treasure. Each woman, each man, are talents of gold which are offered to us for our good, and are in the world the true coins of gold which bear engraved on themselves the image and inscription of God.
A particular way of restoring everything to God is that of consecrated virgins who, thanks to their consecration, are a “human space inhabited by the Trinity” (VC 41). They bear witness to the total gift of themselves to this Love which pushes them to “take care of the distorted divine image of the faces of the brothers and sisters” (VC 75d). They thus reveal the mystery of a God who places himself at the service of man.
The lives of these women are based on at least three pillars.
– the 1st is the “consecration” itself, which is determined by the initiative of the free love of God who calls and by faith in Him as a response to this love. Consecration is a life centered on God, in total abandonment, loving trust, a life of gratuity and gratitude, of particular manifestation of the Mystery of God in a humble and simple person
– the 2nd pillar is love towards brothers and sisters around the world. The consecrated woman is called to share Love, because the gift received is a gift to be given, to be shared, in recognition and love to God who first loved her. The gift of the Lord given to her does not exclude others, but through her it is intended to circulate above all among all those with whom she lives and works, and then reaches the whole world.
– the 3rd pillar or, better, the goal of consecrated life is a mission to accomplish in favor of men who live in this world which is of God: “Go into all the world” (Mt 16:15). In the heart of the Gospel, resounding solemnly on the day of Pentecost, the Christian’s mission to reach out to others has its secret also kept like the precious pearl in the Gospel where Christ says: “Remain in my love «. “Go and stay” are the two evangelical coordinates in which the consecrated virgin acts and from which she draws her vital sap every day.
This “going into the whole world” is the continuation of the gift of self to others experienced in the Church and which, within the Christian community, extends to all human beings. In this gesture of donation, others are also perceived as a gift from God to us, with whom we must “live-with” and share the gifts we have received from the Lord. In this journey in the world, the fundamental commitment is the praise of God, the testimony of Jesus on a personal and community level and the explicit announcement of his name to the nations, living a true missionary dimension and restoring the world to God .

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