Giving to Caesar and to God

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

There was a deliberate plot against Jesus in the Gospel today (Matt 22:15-21). The strange thing is that two groups of people with two very different opinions came together to form the plot against Jesus. The Pharisees and their disciples were opposed to the Roman Empire meddling in Palestine and opposed to paying tax to Rome, but Herodians supported the local Roman ruler in Palestine, Herod, and supported paying tax to Rome. When you have opponents plotting together then you know it is a very serious situation. It gets even more sinister because when the Pharisees and Herodians speak to Jesus, what they say about Jesus is true. They say Jesus is truthful, teaches the way of God and doesn’t regard a person’s status. But it is so obvious that this is not really their attitude to Jesus. This is all part of their trap. They are pretending to be on the side of Jesus whereas in fact they ask a question about whether or not to pay tax to Caesar because they think no matter what way Jesus answers he will get himself into trouble.

Not to worry, Jesus sees through their malice. What a word Matthew uses to describe them. They have malice, they are malicious. Jesus himself reprimands them, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” The word “hypocrite” says it all. A hypocrite was the name for an actor on the Greek stage at this time. The hypocrite would simply wear a face mask to play the role on stage. Jesus is saying they are false, they are wearing masks in front of him but behind their masks they are entirely different.

Jesus’ reply to their question about paying tax to Caesar was masterful. Coins had an image of Caesar on them so Jesus declares to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matt 22:21). This reply from Jesus has been used all through the centuries to teach us to act as good citizens in our country. Obviously we do this by paying our just taxes, defending our country, voting, and in many other ways.

At the same time, our country is to serve its loyal citizens by taking only what belongs to Caesar and leaving to God what belongs to God. God gives life and only God can take that life again. It is not up to a country to decide that its unborn whose lives come from God can be killed while in the womb. Marriage is from God. We hear many discussions about defining marriage nowadays. Any discussion which does not give to God what belongs to God is not a complete discussion. How can a country which claims to be a Christian country, founded on Christian principles, ignore what belongs to God when making important decisions? We do not want to be like those in the Gospel who came to Jesus and said nice things about him but it was only a mask on their faces over their real selves.

The coin had an image of Caesar on it so Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. We also have an image on us, the image of God. We read in Gen 1:26-27 that we are made in the image and likeness of God. If the coin belongs to Caesar and is to be given to Caesar because it has Caesar’s image on it, we belong to God and are to give to God because we have God’s image on us. Giving to God comes natural when we realize how much God loves us. The closer we come to God, the more we become friends of God, the more we want to give to God who gave everything to us in the first place. Giving to God is not a chore but is pure joy for us and an act of love because we are giving back to God who first loved us and gave us everything we have. We give to God in so many different ways. We give to God by keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day. God comes first. Those who do not go to Mass do not have the Eucharist at home. Life goes much better with God than without God. God made us for himself, and giving to God, putting God’s first is the only way to true happiness.

We also give to God by spending time with God in prayer every day. Prayer every day is essential for a Christian in a world that is becoming increasing secularized. Prayer every day keeps us close to Jesus and helps us carry our crosses. Prayer every day is one of the ingredients to ensure you have a great day. Every day we wish people, “Have a great day” or people wish us, “Have a great day.” We can do so much ourselves to ensure we have a great day by spending time in prayer every day with Jesus and Mary. Your visit to Our Lady’s Shrine here today is a reminder to pray the Rosary every day, a prayer especially beloved by Our Lady.

The drama of the Gospel is being played out all around us today. We give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Some would like to drown out the voice of Jesus. There will always be those who oppose giving to God what belongs to God. But we have God’s image on us, we belong to God, and the only way to true happiness is to put God first. The closer we come to God, the more we become friends of God, the more we want to give to God who gave everything to us in the first place. If we give only to Caesar and not to God, Caesar will not be there to welcome us to eternity or to judge how we lived. We give to God because we are giving back to God who first loved us and gave us everything we have and because we look forward to all eternity with God.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2014

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.