BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas

Mt. 22:15-21
One day a mother was in panic. Her little boy swallowed a coin. “Quick!” she called on her husband. “Call the doctor!” But the husband calmly replied, “We do not need a doctor. Let us call a priest instead.” “Why? Is our boy going to die?” she asked. “No,” he replied, ‘But our parish priest has his way of getting money out of anybody.”

The Gospel this Sunday is talking about a coin. Jesus said to his critics, the Herodians and the Pharisees: “Show me a coin.” The coin was a Roman coin used to pay taxes to the Emperor. Jesus made this request because He was asked the question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17). Jesus was quick to notice the malice behind this simple question. That is why he retorted: “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?”

He called them hypocrites because they were actually trying to trap him. If he answers “yes”, they will tell the people that Jesus is a supporter of the Roman Empire. If he answers “no”, they will accuse him of sedition and report him to the Roman authorities so that he would be imprisoned. He called them hypocrites also because it is not proper for Jews, especially the Pharisees, to have in their possession a Roman coin, for such would be an acknowledgement of Roman power over the Jewish people. Added to that, the coin has the blasphemous words inscribed on it: “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Yet when he asked for a coin, the Pharisees readily gave him one. In fact, it is publicly known that they are already paying taxes to the Emperor.

They laid a trap for Jesus, but he eluded it masterfully by saying: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:22).

This statement, short as it is, spells out a guiding principle for us. We cannot deny the fact that we are still in this world. At the same time, we should not also forget that we do not belong to this world, for we are citizens of heaven. While we are in this world, we abide by the principles of social life. No man is an island. We live with others in society. We should be useful and healthy members of society. And for a society to live in peace and harmony, there should be norms and laws, which must be followed for the common good and the protection of human rights. In this regard, a legitimate authority is necessary to implement the laws and to lead and unite the people. That is the meaning of the first part of the statement of Jesus: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” We have duties and obligations as members of society: loyalty to country, honest public service, payment of taxes, obedience to the laws of the land, respect for persons in authority and defense of basic human rights among many others. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” I don’t think we have problem with this. I believe we are all law- abiding citizens of the land. Otherwise, we will not be here but in jail.

But the second part is what is more difficult and challenging: “Give to God what belongs to God.” What belongs to God? There is a common tendency among us to dichotomize our self. Sometimes we say, my soul belongs to God, but my body belongs to me and to the world. Or we say, when I am in church, I belong to God. But when I get out, I am on my own. That is not correct. We belong to God, whole and entire. That is why, when Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He answered, “The first is this: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:29). He is not talking about ten percent or fifty percent. He said “all”, which means one hundred percent! So, what is due to God? Everything. Since everything comes from Him, we ought to give everything back to Him. That is justice, plain and simple. So, we ask ourselves: “Am I ready and willing to give God everything?”

The first Filipino saint is Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, a martyr. He was a married layman, a lowly sacristan in a church in Manila. He joined the Dominican missionaries to Japan. There they were captured and tortured. Under penalty of death, they were ordered to renounce their faith. Lorenzo uttered these heroic words: “I am a Christian. And if I have a thousand lives, I will give them all to God.” Such a beautiful example of total generosity to God!

An old man won a million dollars in the lottery. His family could not break the great news to him for fear that he might have heart attack. They requested the priest to do the task. The priest obliged and talked to the old man. He started with: “Sir, if you win one million dollars, what will you do?” The old man quickly replied, “I will give half of it to you and to the church!” The priest had heart attack.

When I was a child, my parents would bring all of us children to church on Sunday. The house would be filled with activity as four children scramble to dress up. Then before leaving the house my parents would give each of us a five- centavo coin for the church collection. At that age I wondered, are my parents telling us that coins are enough to give to the church? Later in life, I realized they were, after all, very generous to the Church. They readily gave their son to the Church as a priest.

God is generous to us. He gives us everything, even His only Son: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” How generous are we to God? “Give to God what belongs to God.” Everything.

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422

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