Thus says the Lord to His anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.(P) The word of the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all you lands. Tell His glory among the nations; among all peoples, His wondrous deeds. (R)
For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; awesome is He, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the Lord made the heavens. (R)
Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord the glory due His name! Bring gifts, and enter His courts. (R)
Worship the Lord, in holy attire; tremble before Him, all the Earth; say among the nations: The Lord is king, He governs the peoples with equity. (R)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace. We given thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.(P) The word of the Lord.
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax."
Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
There is a story of a man who suffered a heart attack and fell unconscious on the street. People called an ambulance, and he was admitted to a nearby hospital, where he underwent an operation immediately. After five days, he awakened to find himself in the care of some Catholic nuns at the hospital. A nun asked him if he had any medical insurance to pay his bill. "No", he replied. "Any money in your bank account?" she asked. "No" he said. "Do you have any relative who could help you?", she asked. "Oh! Yes. Just a spinster sister, who is a nun", he said. "You know, nuns are not spinsters. They are married to Jesus", said the nun. "Oh! That's wonderful then. Send all the bills to my brother-in-law", he said.
At the time of Jesus, there were many groups in the Jewish society - Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Zealots, High Priests, Chief Priests and Herodians. Even though each of these groups held positions of authority and power in either religious or political matters, they debated and disagreed with each other about many details. The groups mentioned in today's gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians, were particularly bitter enemies. The Pharisees were defenders of the law and Jewish customs, and equally strong opponents of Herod's reign and Roman rule. They wanted a descendant of David to be their king.
The Herodians, neither a religious sect nor a political party were collaborators with the Roman rulers, whose occupation sustained the dynasty of the Herod family and helped them prosper economically. These two groups with different ideologies were arch enemies but temporarily joined forces with the intent of destroying Jesus. Both sides hated each other; however, they hated Jesus even more, and viewed Jesus as a threat to the powers and status that they held.
Prior to this encounter, Jesus had been telling them parables, primarily directed at the Chief Priests and the Pharisees. These parables depicted the rejection of the prophets and the Messiah by the Israelites under the leadership of the Chief Priests and Pharisees. The Pharisees, apparently offended by Jesus' teaching, became united with their opponents, the Herodians, in hatching a plan to trap Jesus with questions so as to discredit Him before the crowds, and possibly also find a reason to bring charges against Him. We can imagine how they plotted to catch Jesus saying something wrong, despite knowing that Jesus was a man of wisdom and the unlikelihood of committing such an error. It was somewhat unusual that religious leaders, who should be responsible for guiding people towards the truth, would go out of their way to ensnare someone in what they say. With flattery, they tried to hide their evil intent against Jesus.
They began by calling Him "Teacher", even though they did not seek Him for any instruction. They even praised him in saying, "We know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status." Although their flattery was accurate, they were using it to entrap Jesus. After showering Jesus with insincere praise, they asked him outright if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Here, they wanted Jesus to take sides on the controversy over tax payments to Romans whom they regarded as brutal occupiers and oppressors.
Whatever His answer, He would get into trouble. If Jesus said yes, He would lose popular support and anger the zealots. If he said no, the Pharisees could then accuse Jesus of political rebellion against the Roman regime. It seemed very simple, and the crowd around Jesus certainly waited expectantly for His answer. But Jesus perceived their wickedness and exposed their hypocrisy by asking to see the coin used for paying the tax. They produced the coin, showing that they were themselves complicit in the practice. Jesus then asked them whose image and inscription were embossed on the coin. "Caesar's," they admitted. Whereupon, Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" and immediately followed this with "to God what belongs to God." The latter phrase was perhaps not what they expected.
Here, Jesus was not entering into a discussion over the rights of the state and the rights of religion; but was pointing out to them a deeper truth. They were obligated to give Caesar his due because they were enjoying many benefits under Caesar's government, such as reliable currency, good roads, temple improvements, public order and other basic necessities. So, too, were they required to give to God what is God's. In fact, Jesus highlighted that belonging to God's Kingdom was more important than being under Caesar's rule and paying taxes. Therefore, what they owed to God was far more important than what they owed to Caesar.
It was not mere coins or money or wealth that Jesus wanted them to give to God but their hearts, minds, and souls. Matthew concludes with the outcome (which is omitted in today's gospel) of the Pharisees and Herodians' confrontation with Jesus, saying "When they heard this, they were amazed. So, they left him and went away", Matthew (22:22).
What is the message for us?
Jesus reminds us of the distinction between two spheres: one sphere relating to Caesar and the worldly matters, and the other sphere is relating to God and heavenly matters. And that we should recognize and respect what belongs to each sphere. The ideal Christian is one who fulfills his duty both to his fellowmen and to God. We are to respect, protect, fulfill and promote the secular, or civic duty of rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but at the same time we must also bear in mind our duty to obey God in the religious, or sacred sphere.
However, what I do fear is that we may so often remember what we owe to our fellow men but we forget what we owe to God. Often, we hold back what is rightfully due to God. As a matter of fact, what we owe to God is far more important than what we owe to anyone else. One might ask, "What are the things that belong to God?"
The Bible tells us that thanksgiving, praise, worship, honor, glory and love are rightfully belong to God alone. Hence, as the psalmist says in today's Psalm (94), let us praise and thank God for all He has done, is doing and will do in our lives. Let us courageously sing songs to the Lord with a loud voice and declare His wondrous deeds among the nations. Let us bring gifts and worship Him with a humble, pure and devoted heart. Let us give to Him glory due His name. Let us magnify Him through our words, actions, and everyday life. And let us love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, Matthew (22:37).(P) Amen.
God Bless You!