HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
HOMILY THEME: TO GOD BELONGS EVERYTHING
BY: Fr. Johnbosco Obika
1st: Is. 45:1, 4-6
2nd: 1Thes 1:1-5b
Gospel: Mt 22:15-21
In the day’s readings the church invites us to see God’s hand in every human achievement and even in the secular order of the world, and to accord God every honor and glory having come to this realization. In the first reading, Isaiah tries to convince his Jewish audience that things were changing for better for them not because king Cyrus was in power but because God has willed it and used Cyrus as an instrument to carry out his will. God used Cyrus to end the Babylonian captivity and brought freedom to the Jews.
In the gospel Jesus was faced with a team of two extremist groups (the Herodians and the Pharisees) that united in evil to get Jesus caught on the horns of dilemma in order to discredit him. But Jesus wisely turned it into an opportunity to teach and enlighten them. They asked if it is right to pay tax to Caesar. The coin presented to Jesus was engraved the image of Tiberius Caesar the Roman emperor. The Roman Empire of Jesus’ days was divided into provinces which Israel was one of them. The Jews were ruled by two authorities: the political authority (Roman Empire under the governorship of Herod) and religious authority (ruled by the Pharisees, Sadducees and priests). On the one hand, being under the political leadership of Rome, the Jews are supposed to pay taxes to the empire which was collected by tax collectors (like Zaccheus and Matthew who were later called by Jesus).
The Jews hated taxes to Caesar and saw tax collectors as traitors and accomplices. They rebelled against it under the auspices of a group named the Zealots. On the other hand, being under the religious umbrella of Judaism, the Jews are supposed to temple tax. Jesus knew the trap set for him: if he pays tax to Caesar, fellow Jews would see him as traitor, and if he pays to the temple the Roman authorities would accuse him of sedition. This led to the injunction: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God “.
This injunction which has been widely misinterpreted by many of us is not an invitation to serve the devil and serve God when occasion demands. We tend to use it in a whimsical and capricious manner when we want to live a hypocritical and dualistic life. For example we hear such statements like “my soul is for God”, but my body is for the world; “in the church I give God what belongs to him, outside the I give Caesar what belongs to him.” It is rather an invitation to serve God wholly and entirely in the religious setting and in the political setting of the society.
The question is what belongs to Caesar? Caesar represents earthly political power and the affairs under the sun. God is the source of all legitimate human authority and they are geared towards perfection of God’s creation and advancement of his kingdom. Authorities acquired through nepotistic, despotic, fraudulent and violent means does not come from God and they move towards the destruction of God’s creation. To God belong Caesar and everything under his control. We are obliged to obey the laws of the state which follow from divine principles such as payment of taxes for development of the state, using our franchise to vote the righteous into civil leadership, obedience to traffic rules and other civic responsibilities. In carrying out our civil responsibility we give obedience to God. God is our number one priority. He is the source of every good thing, therefore, everything is due to him. We must love him without reservation: with all our strength, “with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27). The psalmist says: the Lord’s the earth and it’s fullness, the world and all its peoples” (Psalm 24:1); “Give the Lord glory and honor” (Psalms 96).
In the first reading of today he declares: “I am the God and there is no other.” In the final analysis, we see nothing goes for the devil. Jesus only asks us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.
Some of us see Caesar as evil. Caesar in representing the state is not evil. The state is sacred before God and it is our duty to pray for those who handle the steering of leadership that they may do the will of God.