Sunday, October 22, 2023
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Gospel Mt 22:15-21
The Pharisees went off
and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.
They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying,
"Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion,
for you do not regard a person's status.
Tell us, then, what is your opinion:
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
Knowing their malice, Jesus said,
"Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax."
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
They replied, "Caesar's."
At that he said to them,
"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God."
God Don't Take Coins!
Upon Reflection: What if you had no college loans to pay off, no credit card debt, no car payments, no mortgage or no home equity loans, etc.? What if you had no debt whatsoever? And what if there were no taxes? Imagine not having to pay taxes or at least not having to pay any tax that you don't want to pay. Try to seriously envision living in that kind of world for a second and then ask yourself this question: Would I be any different than I am now?
In this week's Gospel, Jesus suggests that the degree to which money concerns us now is the same degree to which money will always concern us. When we stress over our money going to debts and taxes, it is an indication that money has power over our attitudes and dispositions. It reveals our "true colors" as to what is most important to us, and there is no reason to think that being debt and tax free will release us from money's control. If it controls us now, it will control us later.
When the Pharisees send their disciples to trap Jesus with a question about paying Caesar's tax, Jesus responds to them with something sounding pretty much like this: "You guys are pathetic hypocrites! Even if there were no Roman tax and no Roman occupation, you and your ilk would still be more concerned about your money than with the poor!"
The Pharisees viewed paying taxes to the Romans as the equivalent to giving to Caesar wealth that belonged to God (that is, Israel's, "the Chosen People's" money and possessions). Part of the irony and hypocrisy was that they used Roman coins to represent that wealth. And though they believed this, they would not dare say it publicly lest they procured the wrath of the Romans. So the trap was set for Jesus to say it publicly. After all, he is a "truthful man" who is "not concerned with anyone's opinion."
But Jesus responds by saying that what belongs to God has nothing to do with coins that represent material possession. Giving to God what belongs to God means giving our compassion to others, especially to the poor and the outcasts. Whatever wealth the Pharisees had, not only did they not want to share it with Caesar, but they didn't want to share it with anyone! This is what really makes them hypocrites.
And so perhaps the message that we are called to internalize from this week's Gospel is to be just the opposite of the Pharisees. We want to be able to say that whether we owe or don't owe money, our compassionate concern for those who struggle vastly outweighs our personal financial concerns. Compassion always trumps coin!