Each week, Bishop Edward Malesic writes a Scripture reflection for the faithful. Follow the bishop on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Click HERE for the readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Today’s Gospel reading is a good example of the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The Pharisees and Herodians put their strong differences aside when they plotted together against Jesus, their common foe.
With their question about the census tax they believed that they had Jesus trapped. They asked him, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus said, “No”, the Roman authorities would come after him. If he said, “Yes”, the pious Jews would rebuke him.
Jesus asked them for the coin, which was stamped with the image of Tiberius Caesar on one side, and on the other side was the statement that Tiberius was the son of the divine Augustus. In other words, Caesar was making himself a son of a god.
Holding the coin Jesus asked, “Whose image is this and whose inscription.” The answer is obvious. It is the image of Caesar. Jesus said, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
Jesus exposed their question as a false dilemma. Obviously, there are some things that we owe to the government. If we use the roads that our government builds, then we must pay for them. How much we pay for them – that’s up for debate. Even St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans that citizens must pay taxes (see Romans 13:7). We can grumble about it, but taxes, as they say, are as certain as death. And we must even respect those in authority over us, St. Paul said.
But Jesus goes beyond the issue of taxes to give us a lesson on religion. He says, if Caesar’s image is stamped on the coin, it belongs to him, and in this case – give it back to him. But give to God what belongs to God. In other words, he begs the question: Where is God’s image stamped?
The answer: God’s image is stamped on us. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are imprinted with the face of God. So, in this life, we must give ourselves back to God. In this, there can be no separation of what we believe and how we live. In all things and at all times we belong to God. And that is why our religion, our faith, must color everything about us.
I like to think of St. Thomas More when I read this passage of Scripture. St. Thomas was the chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. He was a terrific lawyer and statesman. But when Henry wanted Thomas More to choose him over the pope – or, seen another way, to choose his politics over his religion – St. Thomas More chose his religion. And, when he was martyred in 1535 at the block, St. Thomas More, the patron of lawyers and politicians, said his famous words, “I die as the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
And that is why we count him among the saints. And that is why we give our entire lives to him, who gave his entire life for us. We want to be saints too.
Have a blessed week everyone.