18 Oct 2020; 29th of the Year
Many Christians think of the 18th October as St. Luke`s Day and so it is normally except when the Saint`s Day gets supplanted by the Sunday of the Year and Sunday being The Lord`s Day the scripture readings set for the Sunday take precedence over the Saint`s Day!
Once again, as so often, in our Sunday Gospel passages, we find Jesus at a confrontation point. By this time in His ministry the Pharisees were plotting even harder in how to trap him that they might do away with him. They sent their followers, accompanied by Herodians, to gang up on Jesus by trapping him. And what a greasy bunch they are. They begin by trying to butter-up Jesus by saying, `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` Having said this they follow with the bombshell question, `Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?` If he had answered `NO` they would trap Him as being disloyal to the civil authority of the day for Israel was under Roman Occupation. If he had answered `YES` then they would accuse Him of being disloyal to the Jewish Faith! An apparent lose, lose, situation.
Jesus had been under the threat of their malice many times before and, of course, seeing straight through their plan confronts them: `You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me ? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.` They handed him a denarius, a silver coin frequently used in commerce and shopping and Jesus asks, `Whose head is this ? Whose name ?` They answered `Caesar`s` and Jesus scuppers their plan by saying to them: `Very well, give back to Cesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.`
Of course, the Pharisees and, indeed, countless ordinary folk living in the Holy Land in Our Lord`s time would be very resentful of Caesar and his occupying military and administration for Israel had become a vassal state to the Roman Empire though, because of its religion and cultural background, it often had more privileges than a number of other nations subjugated by Rome. Of course, the point of the question that the Pharisees and their allies make concerning taxes or tribute to Caesar is to catch Jesus out for depending on His answer they could accuse him of being either FOR or AGAINST the Roman occupation. If he had said a straight YES to the question he would have been accused of being a traitor to his own Nation and ancestry and the authority of the Temple. If he had answered a straight NO then he would have been accused of rebellion against the Civil Authority of Pontius Pilate the Roman Governor – a treasonable offence!
Jesus our Saviour shows both calm and wisdom in dealing with the situation. He covers both grounds: the paying of taxes to the Emperor`s government is no act of idolatry but rather a legal obligation to the earthly authority in the giving such dues to the government of the day but not without rendering to God the things that belong to Him.
The implication of Our Lord`s reply to his listeners is a deepening of the question about who they and indeed each one of us, as individuals, belong to ? We might answer many things: To family, to my city, to friends, to my husband/wife/ partner/parents/children. To the workplace, to politics, to the State. Yes, of course, to all these things but first and foremost to that which Jesus reminds us throughout His teaching- each of us belongs to God for it is He that has given each of us all that we are and have. We are His children by adoption and grace. This is a fundamental belonging which we share and so we must live our lives daily in the recognition of this belonging and always in heartfelt gratitude to our Heavenly Father who created each one of us individually, uniquely, yet always according to the image of His beloved Son JESUS. This is itself a wondrous mystery.
As Christians we are called to commit ourselves, openly, in the human and social spheres that surround us as earthly realities but through God`s grace in our lives, illuminating our lives and situation with that light that comes from God Himself. This entrustment to God and hope in Him implies no escape from reality, but rather a diligent rendering to God that which belongs to Him – our very selves! This is why we who are believers in Jesus Christ and His and our Heavenly Father and in the power of His Spirit we are able to look to that future reality, that of God, so as to live our earthly lives to the fullest, meeting its challenges, not fearfully, but with courage.
Perhaps in the present climes of COVID-19, and other uncertainties, we need to remind ourselves of that one certainly and constancy which is God Himself who reveals the fullness of Himself in Jesus our Lord.