18th October, 2020

Painting of Jesus talking to the Pharisees

“Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God”

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

My guess is that each of us, including me, likes to receive various compliments. We like it when other people – especially publicly – appreciate our intelligence, wisdom, talents and skills. Sometimes we hear such kind words from our friends or family members. Sometimes it is very nice, but sometimes we can get the impression that all these compliments are just very exaggerated and not necessarily sincere.

In today’s Gospel, we hear about a very unusual encounter between Jesus and the disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians. This meeting started with a very pleasant approach: “Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you…” When we listen to these charming words, we might get the impression that all these people were very friendly to Jesus. But at the same time, we might get the impression that Jesus was in a very bad mood since his answer and immediate reaction was so sharp and harsh: “You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me?”

It seems to me that this attitude of Jesus and his seemingly stern reaction can teach us how to think realistically about ourselves. But on the other hand, this attitude of Jesus also teaches us how to be realistic with others and how to be independent of other people’s opinions about us. Jesus wants to tell us very clearly that only he knows our thoughts and our feelings like no one else. Therefore, we can ask ourselves today: Do I try to be authentic in my relationships with others? What kind of friend am I, and what kind of friend do I try to be every day? Do I always try to be honest and do I always say exactly what I think of others? Or maybe sometimes I am just like those tricky people in today’s gospel who set a trap for Jesus to achieve their wicked goal.

In the second part of the gospel, we heard a very clever and quite surprising answer to a question that was put to Jesus. “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” – “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God”. Let’s try to apply the first part of Jesus’ answer in our daily life, and let’s ask what does it mean to “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”? It means to be just and honest with the country where we live and work. It means paying all taxes and being involved in the social and political life of this community. And finally, to give back to Caesar what belongs to him, it means for us respecting all those people who have been elected and who are now responsible for the political and social order of this country.

The second part of this sentence may seem even easier to understand. Everything belongs to God. So, what does it mean in practice to “give back to God what belongs to him”? It means first of all to be aware of his constant presence among us in every place where we live and work. It means placing the commandment of love above every other law that has ever existed in the world. It means treating everything we own with gratitude as a gift of his love for us. This means – regardless of our political views and preferences – entrusting to God in our prayers all those who exercise any authority as a king, president, pope, prime minister, deputy and many others.

Lord, who comes to us in every Eucharist in the signs of bread and wine, please help us understand that everything we have is a gift from you that we have not deserved. Help us understand also that by giving you back our lives and all we have, we lose nothing, but even receive much more than we can imagine. Amen.
Fr. Gregory