The question asked of Jesus in the Gospel is set as a political trap. By saying “yes” Jesus contradicts the people’s privileged relationship with God and disavows their striving for political freedom. By saying “no” Jesus places Himself on the side of the Zealots who aggressively are seeking liberation against Roman rule. For Jesus, the only thing that really matters is that God receives all that that is owed to Him – which only happens to be everything.
RENDER TO GOD
29 Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Over the past several Sundays we have heard a series of Jesus’ parables. These stories sharply criticize the pretentious and self-righteous religious leaders.
In a dramatic twist today, the Pharisees push back trying to lead Jesus into bind where escape seems impossible (Matthew 22:15-21). They deviously ask Jesus whether one should pay taxes to Caesar (v. 17). If Jesus says “yes”, then He will betray His own people. If Jesus says “no”, then He will be guilty of fueling rebellion against Rome.
Jesus sees straight through their malice and hypocrisy. He asks for a “denarius” – the coin used to pay the tax (v. 19). Notice carefully that Jesus Himself does not carry a coin though His opponents are quite willing to use Caesar’s money in their business transactions. Jesus simply explains that as they are willing to carry the coin which bears Caesar’s likeness (v. 20) so should they be willing to give to Caesar what is his.
Then Jesus heralds the further duty beyond rendering to Caesar what is his. They are obliged to recognize the supreme Sovereign and render to God what rightly belongs to Him. Jesus point is crystal clear: they should be less concerned about what is due Caesar and pay highest attention to the presence of the Son of God in their midst.
Politics and religion sometimes mix uncomfortably. The task always remains the same: to practice proper priority. Politics which humbly seeks to serve the supreme Sovereign assuredly will thrive. However, service of God dominated by politics can only usher hatred and sinfulness into the Church. These enduring principles, so clearly enunciated by Jesus, not only challenge the state to allow God to be God, but especially challenge the Church to preach and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than surrender to political comfort and convenience.