Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Thessalonians 1:1-5
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 22:15-21
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
In what must be one of the most often quoted verses of the entire Bible, Jesus takes the discussion of whether or not to pay taxes and places it on a level beyond which His interlocutors could have ever expected to go. Their initial question – “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” – was intended to trap Him on one side or the other of the debate. It was akin to asking someone if she or he has finally stopped taking bribes: there is absolutely no way to answer the question directly and remain unscathed.
So Jesus, outsmarting the Pharisees and their disciples once again, chose to answer the question with a question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” This is a typical tactic used for centuries by rabbis as a way of disarming their questioners, and since Jesus is the Rabbi He is a master at using the technique.
He was making the point that since the image and inscription of Caesar was on the coin it therefore belonged to Caesar and should, if asked for, be given back. What was behind that comment, beyond the comprehension of his questioners, and ultimately much more important than any decision about paying taxes was that each of us is made in the image of God and each of us is marked by God’s inscription.
Thus the real question is, “I know how to repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but how am I to repay to God what belongs to God?” The answer can be worded in a variety of ways, but maybe this weekend’s Responsorial Psalm says it best: “Give the Lord glory and honor.”
While focusing on the need to literally sing to the world of God’s glory and honor, Psalm 96 also tells us to “give to the Lord the glory due His name.” Whenever someone acts as an image of God, whenever someone lets God’s inscription be seen, then that person is giving glory and honor to the One in whose image we are all made and whose inscription is written on each of our hearts.
To extend the metaphor, each of us – the coins belonging to God – are His because he “minted” us and to Him we are of inestimable value. Just as the coins of Caesar had a certain worth in the eyes of the world because of whose image and inscription were on each of them, so do we have worth whenever people are able to see the image of God in us and are able to see that God’s inscription marks each of us as His own.
So that is the key – showing the world that we are His coins – and that can only be done by being in circulation. Just as money hoarded and unused doesn’t help the economy to grow, so to must our lives be a part of the essential exchange of goods and services in order for them to benefit others.
Throughout the Gospels we hear a number of phrases that were coined – meaning ‘created’ – by Jesus, including that of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but that coinage is without much value unless joined with the currency that has the greatest exchange rate possible – the human person created in the image of God and stamped with His inscription.