29 Sunday A - Taxes to Caesar and to God

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

The Holy Spirit has gathered us here to offer thanks and praise to the Father through our union with Jesus. But in discovering our relationship with God, we also discover our relationship with other human beings, and our place within God’s creation. So we are called to love and serve God and we are called to love and serve others. We often think that it is enough to serve either God or humanity: serve one and ignore the other. But life just isn’t that simple: we have to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give back to God what belongs to God. Part of our mission as Christians is to negotiate and balance these responsibilities. It is this mission we are going to reflect on today.

Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments

Today’s passage is built around the saying in verse 21, “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. It is a “wisdom saying” and the passage invites us to enter into it with our feelings. Its truth should touch us so deeply that we are filled with gratitude, and also with humility as we realise that do we do not live up to it – as individuals, as a Church and as communities.  The saying then becomes a call to repentance.

In order to bring the saying alive in this way, we need to read it in the context of a story, which is how it is presented to us, not as an abstract timeless truth but as a response to a situation. The question for us then is, when did we experience a similar situation? And then, who was the Jesus who spoke as he did?

We must be careful to interpret the saying correctly. In the course of the Church’s  history, it has often been taken to mean that there are areas of life which are Caesar’s domain and other areas which are God’s.

In fact the saying has been used to justify the claim that religious leaders should not “interfere” in secular fields like politics, economics or culture.

This could not possibly be the meaning, however. The entire teaching of Jesus, indeed the entire bible, insists that the whole of creation “belongs to God” – “his is the earth and the fullness thereof”. There is no question of “separate domains” therefore, since everything belongs to God.
The saying is rather about keeping priorities right. The Pharisees voice a concern which seems at first sight to be harmless but is in fact a “trap”. They are not neutral. For them, paying taxes to Caesar is important, whereas for Jesus (as for all people whose priorities are right) it is only of relative importance:  he says in effect,  “you can give back to Caesar whatever belongs to him (whatever has his head engraved on it); just make sure you don’t give him what belongs to God”.

“What belongs to God” must be taken in a wide sense to mean what is so precious that we cannot make concessions where it is concerned – family, friendship, the sanctity of sex, self respect, compassion, humility, care for the poor, etc.
Jesus then is challenging the Pharisees to get their priorities right.
- His position can be expressed positively: treasure what is primary for you, and you will find that you will have no problem looking after (“paying your taxes” to) what is secondary.
- It can also be expressed  negatively: don’t take secondary things so seriously (“pay taxes to them”) that you end up compromising what is primary.
We enter into the drama of “whose head is this?”  Feel Jesus’ inner freedom (a hint of disdain) when he says, “well then, give it back to him”. On the other hand feel the terrible sadness of a priority gone wrong
- allowing something that is sacred (“belongs to God”), to have “Caesar’s head” engraved on it.
The passage is intended to evoke memories of people or communities getting  priorities wrong:
- parents who provide material benefits for their children but neglect to give them quality time.
     – teachers who stress success in examinations and forget to praise those who are not successful but do their best.
- Church leaders who are more concerned with what people think than with being faithful to the message of Jesus.
- public officials who work for popularity and compromise their integrity.
Jesus is the person (or community) pointing out that priorities have gone wrong. As with all insightful statements, his answer is simple but surprising (“it took them by surprise”) and deeply satisfying (“they left him alone and went away”).
A sign that we have made a good meditation is that we identify with the Pharisees. If we find ourselves looking down on them, it means that we haven’t really entered into the story. They represent us (sometimes an inner voice within us) when we voice concerns which are important  but which are really “a trap” in which more important values are lost. This situation occurs in:
- our  personal lives, e.g. concerns with health, job security, standing in the community;
- the life of the Church, e.g. concerns for large numbers, prestige, structures;
- the development of a social movement, e.g. concern with taking political power, finances.
The details of how the Pharisees “went about” asking their question are all significant and can help us recognise them from our experience.
- They “set traps”: their concern hampers true growth.
- They “work it out”: their arguments are very subtle; note in particular the unctuous language; we are never more “pious” than when we are rationalizing our fears and prejudices.
- They do it “between them”: what they say represents the  thinking of many, an entire class or even a culture.
The Pharisees’ flattery in verse 16 is part of their “trap”, but we can take their words at face value. They were right to say that Jesus was “an honest man” who “taught the way of God in an honest way,” that he was “not afraid of any one” and that people’s rank “meant nothing to him”. We celebrate people (or communities) like that;  we read these words as a call to repentance.

 Prayer Reflection
“See the Divine self in all and all in the Divine self.”  The Upanishads
Lord, there was a time when we had become overly concerned for what was relatively unimportant:
- what people thought about us,
- being financially secure,
- not making mistakes,
- being hurt.
We recognise now that this concern was undermining our priorities,
like the Pharisees working out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said.
We thank you that you sent us Jesus,
- close friends,
- members of our community,
- some of our children,
- national  leaders.
They made us aware of the malice in this concern,
told us that we were quite right to give to Caesar what belonged to him
but that we had allowed ourselves to give to Caesar what belonged to you  alone.
We thank you, Lord, for the insight, so simple and yet so surprising.
What had seemed an insoluble problem was now solved,
we left it alone and went our way. Thank you, Lord.

“We ought not to consider our chance of living or dying, we ought only to consider whether we are doing right or wrong.”  Socrates 
Lord, from time to time you come into our lives
calling us to re-establish right priorities:
- through a bible passage or a homily;
- through some friend or a member of our family pointing out our faults;
- when one of our dream projects collapses in failure.
Forgive us that we refuse to hear what you are saying.
We know that if we did we would have to change our ways.
So like the Pharisees working out how to trap Jesus in what he said,
we think up all kinds of arguments:
- following this way will harm our health or hurt those dear to us;
- it is against common sense and no one else is doing it;
- it will offend powerful people and cause confusion in the community.
At such times we become very pious,
we say how much we long to be true and how open we are,
but really we are marshaling a thousand reasons for staying as we are.
Lord, have mercy on us Pharisees.

Lord, our culture lays too much stress on things that are important but secondary,
like wealth, prestige and popularity.
We are like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus
worrying about  whether or not they should pay taxes to Caesar,
and so we end up setting traps for the idealists you have sent us
and are totally surprised at their answers.

Lord, we pray that we, the members of your Church, may be wise like Jesus
with the wisdom that comes from being honest,
from not being afraid of anyone because people’s rank means nothing to us,
and from giving you what belongs to you.
Once rooted in his wisdom we can escape from the traps
that are set for us by the false values of our time;
we will recognise the things that have Caesar’s image on them
and have no problem giving them back to him.
On the other hand we will recognise the things that bear your image alone.

Homily Notes

1. The phrase ‘rendering to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God’ is one of the bits of scripture that people often use without recognising its origin. But it is a phrase that we can do well to keep with us.

2. We all know we have a variety of duties and responsibilities:

To those immediatly around us who love us and whom we love: care, respect, and tenderness are not optionalin our relationships.

• We have responsibilities to those we work with and to those who employ us – honesty and integrity are supposed to be hallmarks of Christians;’

• We have responsibilities to the larger society ; we.are called to be responsible citizens.

• We have responsibilitIes toward the whole of humanity in that we must work for peace and developinerit – this is something’ .. that we are conscious of today but which it would hardly having been worth mentioning a century ago;

• We have responsibilities toward the environment and the care of the planet, indeed because we believe we are all creatures and that God has made us stewards of creation we have an interest in this that is far more demanding than that of an environmentalist who would not recognise the divine origin of the creation – again this is not something that would have been given prominence even a few decades ago and some who call themselves Christians still think environmental concerns are not really ‘religious’ issues despite saying each week’ we believe in one God … maker of all that is, seen and unseen’.

• And we are called in the Spirit to follow the Christ, to become part of his body the church, and offer praise and thanks to our heavenly Father – prayer and praise and an awareness of the mystery that surrounds us is part of our humanity.

3. If we had a little score card of all those duties with this question before each of them: ‘Do you think this is part of the duties of a member of the People of God?’, then virtually every one of us would tick the ‘yes’ box for each question.

4. However, just as at the time of Jesus, we try to play one off against the other.

5. Some Christians try to argue that it can be an ‘either … or’ situation. Some people who are opposed to religion argue that religious people are only concerned with ‘spiritual’ things. Others opposed to religion argue that they should be only concerned with ‘spiritual’ things. Many, for various reasons, argue that ‘religion has no place’ in this or that sphere of human living. Thus they imply that we should not consider ourselves as having any responsibilities in this or that concern.

6. In the face of this we must remember that God is the Lord of all creation. In his love God has given the creation a freedom and integrity, and given humanity responsibilities within it. We are called to live lives of prudence, always keeping in mind the variety of our duties to self, others, the world, and God. It is in taking care of this variety of responsibilities that we fulfill the command to render Caesar’s thing;s to Chesar,  and God’s things to God.

John Litteton
Gospel Reflection

It is always heartening when a bully comes off the worse for wear in a confrontation. And it is all the better if there is a comical element in the situation.

Some people might perceive a humorous element in the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees when they were trying to entrap him by asking him if it was lawful to give tribute to the Roman Emperor Caesar. Matthew informs us that the Pharisees were up to no good. They were discussing among themselves how they could ensnare Jesus when he was teaching the multitudes (see Mt 22:15).

They knew that if Jesus said anything that could be interpreted as criticising Caesar, they would be able to accuse him of treason, although they hated the Roman occupiers and the Emperor themselves. They were blatantly duplicitous and were shameless in their plotting and planning to outwit Jesus.

Cunningly, they began by praising Jesus, telling him that he was a truthful preacher and that he taught God’s will. Therefore, they said mischievously, they would welcome his thoughts about the issue of paying tribute to Caesar.

But Matthew revealed that Jesus knew their wickedness and, instead of answering directly, he asked them for a coin. Then Jesus asked them to look at the coin and explain whose image was on the coin, whose inscription. He was forcing them to confront the truth. When they replied ‘Caesar’s’, Jesus told them, famously, that the answer to their question was to ‘give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God’ (Mt 22:21). 

Jesus too paid his taxes

There are several lessons that we can learn from this episode. The first, perhaps the most obvious, is that it is not only legitimate for a Christian to obey the just laws of the state and to pay taxes but we have a duty to do so. We have this example from Jesus who was born into a nation that was subject to an oppressive invading regime. Here he said nothing about a change of regime. Yet he advocated being subject to the law and paying due taxes.

Another lesson from this encounter between Jesus and the scheming Pharisees is that we need to use our imaginations to take the truth to those outside the Church. Notice that Jesus did not dialogue with the Pharisees in an effort to reach some kind of consensus on the matter of whether or not the Jews should pay tribute to Caesar. He simply confronted them with the facts in an imaginative way. They were unable to refute that he was speaking the truth.

So it will be with us if we make a point of faithfully rendering the Church’s teaching to those around us, whenever the opportunity arises. Indeed, we pray for the zeal to seek opportunities to bring others into the Church where the fullness of God’s revelation and grace is to be found.

We know that we have a duty to render to Caesar, that is, our civic and political responsibilities. But we cannot forget that there is also a need to give time and energy to worshipping God in prayer and charitable works. That is how we give to God what belongs to God.

1.     From Father James Gilhooley  

 A priest in a homily asked: "Would it not be wonderful if schools got all the money they needed to educate kids and the generals had to hold cake sales and ticket raffles for their bombs?" The priest was told by an angry parish council to stick to spiritual affairs and avoid politics. The council used today's Gospel as the final nail in his summary court martial: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." The wounded priest took the advice of his Employer Jesus in Luke 9:5. He shook the dust of the town from his feet. Let's run this parish council critique by Moses.  

 "And the Lord spake unto Moses, `I have seen the affliction of my people and I would deliver them from the pharaoh.' Moses replied, `Lord, perhaps I should fall on my knees and say unto pharaoh, `Let my people go.' The Lord said angrily unto Moses, `Thou art a man of God, not a lobbyist or politician. Mind thine own business.' "Moses held his tongue.  

 The Jews fled Egypt and reached the Red Sea. The Egyptians pursued them. The Jews cried to Moses, `Part the Red Sea so that we may pass on dry ground. Then allow the waters to close again and swallow up our enemies.' Moses grew hysterical, `I am a man of God, not a hydraulic engineer. Nor do I concern myself with military matters. Buy thee a nuclear bomb.' "The Jews entered the Desert of Sinai. They wandered for forty years. Finally they begged Moses, `Guide us to the promised land of milk and honey.' He answered, `Get tour guides to lead thee. I stick to mine prayers.' "Thirsty, they begged Moses to smite the rock and bring forth water. He replied, `Dost thou ask a man of God to develop a Sinai Water Plan? Call thee a plumber.' "Moses went up to Mount Sinai. The Lord said, `I have written ten commandments.' Moses asked, `Lord, shall I read them to your people?'  

 The Lord replied hotly, `It is not for thee to introduce legislative programs. Don't meddle in politics.' "The Jews approached the promised land. Moses taught them canasta and bridge and organized bazaars and dances. He grew in the respect of his flock. On his death bed, he advised his successor Joshua, `Avoid controversy. Flee strife. Care not for the hunger or thirst of thy flock. All who follow this creed will be respected men of God. Thou wilt be dull and alienate the young, but at least no one will attack thee.'" (Unknown) Moses was of course a controversial fellow. He was deeply involved in the physical needs of the Jews. Without him, they might have remained in Egypt building pyramid high risers. But so too was our Jesus a man of controversy. He argued with public authorities. He publicly badmouthed a king. He picked up a whip to expel greedy bankers from His Temple.  

 He was concerned not merely with the souls of people but their bodies as well. Why else would He perform miracles to feed them when hungry and cure them when sick? If one listens to politicians, you get the impression that God has died and left them in charge. If politicians are in charge, how come thirty million Americans are hungry today, five to seven million are homeless, forty-two million are without health insurance, and twenty-five percent of US children live in poverty?  

 So, to conclude that "give Caesar what is Caesar's..." confines the Church to narrowly defined spiritual parameters is a bad reading of today's Gospel. Christians, who ask critical moral questions in whatever area, take their stand with Moses and more importantly Jesus. The record shows Caesar is often wrong. The Church must demand that justice come raining down like a waterfall. It is the politicians' job to fix the plumbing. Raising moral questions will make us controversial.  

 But if Jesus and Moses ran that risk, should we bury our heads in the sand? Some Christians and parish councils seem to believe Jesus was passing by a cross, jumped up, and committed suicide. In fact, Christ raised many upsetting questions. People murdered Him so He would shut up and not disturb their conscience. It was His plan to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. That should be our intent. Christians should be the most exciting people in the country.  

 A good measuring rod is this. If everyone in our society agrees with us or we agree with everybody, we are doing something wrong. We must examine our conscience. We must not take the strong message of Christ and turn it into fat free ice cream.   

2.     From the Connections: 


In today’s Gospel, two opponents of Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians (supporters of Herod’s dynasty), join forces to trap Jesus.  If Jesus affirms that taxes should be paid, he alienates the religious nationalists; if he denies that taxes should be paid, then he is subject to arrest by the Romans as a political revolutionary.  But the very fact that his inquisitors could produce the emperor’s coin from one of their purses was to admit a Roman obligation:  If one used the sovereign’s coin then one automatically took on an obligation to the sovereign; in other words, the Pharisees and Herodians, in trying to trap Jesus, answered their own question.  But Jesus takes the debate to an even higher level by challenging them to be just as observant in paying their debt to God.


The confrontation over Caesar’s coin is not a solution to any church-versus-state controversy; Jesus’ response to the Pharisees confronts them -- and us -- with the demand to act out of our convictions and to take responsibility for our actions. 

Jesus appeals to us to look beyond the simplistic politics and black-and-white legalisms represented by the coin and realize that we are called to embrace the values centered in a faith that sees the hand of God in all things and every human being as part of a single family under the providence of God. 

The Pharisees who confront Jesus with Caesar’s coin are trying to trap him into making a choice between one’s country and God.  But Jesus’ response indicates that one’s citizenship does not have to be at odds with one’s faith; in fact, when government seeks to provide for the just welfare of its citizens, it becomes a vehicle for establishing the reign of God.

God and Caesar do not have to be at odds, Jesus tells the Pharisees.  In God, we realize the dignity of every man, woman and child as sons and daughters of God and our brothers and sisters; in setting up systems of government, we provide for the common good of one another and protect the welfare of all, providing for public safety, educational opportunities and clean water and air. 

Jesus’ answers are not the clear, unambiguous solutions we hope for to these and many other questions.  But his response is the heart of living our faith: the struggle to return to God what is God’s.  Through prayer and discernment, each one of us has to do for ourselves the hard work of deciding exactly what is God’s will in our complex world of politics, money and human relationships.   

Paying your fair fare . . .

One morning, a dad waited with his son for the New York City bus that would take the ten-year-old to school.  The father remembers:

“Passing the time, [my son] told me about all the different ways he and his friends scammed the bus drivers to get a free ride.  They used expired bus passes; they passed a single card between them so it was used multiple times; they set up elaborate games of distraction; and so on.  Especially since I knew money was not an issue for him and his friends, I asked why he did it.  He answered with his own question, ‘Why should we pay when we can get it for free?’  Feeling like a teaching moment had arrived, I explained that in order for the city to have buses in the first place, it required all citizens to share the burden of the cost, and paying a small fare was the price.  He said, ‘Yeah, I know, but still, if I can get away with it, why shouldn’t I?’  I spent the rest of the morning thinking about his question.  I knew it was an age-appropriate moral conundrum for him, but I wondered just how many adults had actually learned the answer.”

[From Simple Truths: On Values, Civility and Our Common Good by Stephen Bauman.] 

Today’s Gospel confronts us with our responsibility to the common good.  It is not an either-or question:  We do not have to choose between God and neighbor, between the holy and the secular, between the things of heaven and the things of earth.  Christ calls us to see the values of God informing the values of our society and nation.  Faith is a matter of recognizing our baptismal call to give thanks to the God of all blessings by sharing what we have received with all; faith calls us to be prophets and disciples of God’s justice and peace by being agents of that justice in our own corner of the vineyard.  As neighbors living in a community, as citizens of a nation, we have a responsibility to provide for the common good; as stewards of the earth it is incumbent upon everyone of us to use the gifts of the earth — water, air, food, energy — for the good and fair use of all.  


1.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

a.     Secular Messiahs

Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary-General of the UN. When he died in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961 at the age of 66, the world lost a great servant of peace. He was a rare person for whom public service was not simply a career or means of achieving power, but a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God. He said: “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself and in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” –Gandhi is another example of a deeply religious man who involved himself in politics. He said: “I am in politics because I cannot separate life from belief. Because I believe in God I have to enter politics. Politics is my service to God.” Nelson Mandela is yet another example of how God uses all kinds of people, not necessarily religious, to lead people to God. Mandela tells us how, when he began to get interested in politics, a friend tried to warn him off saying, “Politics brings out the worst in people. It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.” Fortunately, for South Africa and the world, Mandela ignored his advice.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ 

In today’s gospel the Pharisees bring the issue of paying taxes to the Romans for Jesus’ opinion on the matter. “Is it permissible to pay taxes or not?” The overt question is whether it is proper to pay taxes to the government, but there is a hidden agenda that Jesus is well aware of. Whichever way Jesus answered the question would trap him. If he said taxes had to be paid to Rome the people would be against him and if he said the opposite he would be seen as fomenting rebellion against the authorities. Jesus completely side steps the issue by asking for a coin with which the taxes were to be paid. This coin bore the image of Caesar and an inscription proclaiming his authority. Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is not entering into a discussion of the rights of the state and the rights of religion; but on the occasion of the question he proposes a deeper truth. What matters more to Jesus than being under Caesar’s rule and paying taxes, is belonging to God’s kingdom. Jesus is reminding his listeners of a deeper issue, that of being people of God. If they belong to God then they have to give God his due. God has to be the most important priority in their lives. What they owe to God is far more important than what they owe to anyone else. It is easy to remember what we owe to our fellow men but we can forget what we owe to God. The ideal Christian is one who fulfils his duty both to his fellowmen and to God. Only when there is a clash of interests do we have to remind ourselves that God always comes first. Besides God, Christians have a duty towards their fellow men. Christians should not shirk public office but see it as an opportunity to serve their fellowmen. 

b.     I love my country but there is a higher authority, God!

Franz Jaggerstatter was born in Austria and was brought up a Catholic. He was an ordinary, unremarkable young man, however at some stage he suddenly matured. He became very responsible and began to take religion seriously. By this time the Second World War was raging. At thirty-six he was called up to serve Hitler’s army. He refused to join up. “I cannot join because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience.” He said. “But where’s your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?” his friends protested. “Franz replied, “I love my people and I love my country. But there’s a higher law–God’s law. And God’s law tells me that this war is wrong.” It wasn’t that he wanted to die. He had a lot to live for -his family and friends. He was arrested and put into prison. Then further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife begged him to reconsider his decision. But all to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. He felt he was obeying the words of Christ: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy day Liturgies’ 

It is hoped that our double citizenship of being citizens of two worlds, the material and spiritual, never clash. If they ever do, the Christian must resolve the conflict as St. Thomas More, the martyr did. King Henry VIII was validly married to Catherine of Aragon. He appealed to Rome to annul the marriage so he could marry Ann. Rome refused. Henry cut off allegiance to the Pope and declared himself ‘The only supreme head of the Church of England.’ He ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agreed he acted rightly. Many signed but Thomas More his friend and Lord Chancellor refused. He was put in prison for 15 months and finally executed. His last words were “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”


c.     Doing your Duty!!

We all laugh at the reputed story of Pat Murray at the Battle of Trafalgar, whose version of the Battle was as follows: “Lord Nelson came on deck and said ‘Is Pat Murray on board?’ And I said ‘Here I am, me Lord.’ Then said his lordship, ‘Let the battle proceed.’ And yet, while this was written for a joke, there is more to it than we are apt to think. For had it not been for the Pat Murrays, or John Joneses or Tom Smiths and others who were on hand doing their duty, there would have been no victories for the Nelsons, Wellingtons, Napoleons or Grants, who now live in history as great commanders.

A.W. Graham in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’ 

d.     Spiritual Foundations

The Great Wall of China was a gigantic structure, costing immense expenditure and labour, and when finished it seemed a superb way to gain security; but within a few years of its building it was breached three times by the enemy. Only note, it was breached, not by breaking down the wall but by bribing the gate-keepers. It was the human element that failed; what collapsed was character, proving insufficient the task to make the great structure men had built really work. A like fate awaits all those who, absorbed in political tasks, forget the spiritual foundation.

Anthony P. Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

e.     What will you give me?

There was once a prince and his family. When they were brought before him, King Cyrus asked the captured prince: “What will you give me if I release you?” “Half of my wealth.” “And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” “And If I release your wife?” “Your majesty, I will give you myself.” Cyrus was so greatly moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could keep my eyes only on you my husband–the one who was willing to give himself for me.” (John Pichapilly in ‘The Table of the Word’) 

f.      Give back to God...

Theologian Jon Sobrino published a book “Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness.” A political holiness is what the church badly needs. I sense that we have too much of ‘Church Politics’ and too little of a ‘political Church.’ There’s politicking present in demands for ecclesiastical appointments, but hardly any interest in burning issues facing society and the Church. The current issue of granting concessions to Dalit-Christians (former untouchables) in India is significant. Is this a political or a religious question? I frame the question differently: “Is there anything which is not political? Or anything which is not religious?” Evidently, everything belongs to God. Let us give back to God even what belongs to Caesar!

Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds’ 

2.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil: 

a.     “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Perhaps we can illustrate all this with one case, that of St. Thomas More, the English martyr, Robert Bolt dramatized More’s conflict – regarding what is Caesar’s and what is God’s –  in the drama A Man for All Seasons. Recall the story. King Henry VIII of England is validly married. He appeals to Rome to annual the marriage. But there is no honest basis for annulment. Rome refuses. Henry takes matters into his own hands, declares himself Head of the Church in England and remarries. He then orders his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree he acted rightly in the matter. Many of More’s friends sign, but More refuses. Henry demands that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state. More refuses. He had two obligations, one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, More had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship. We are citizens of the world and citizens of Heaven. We have an allegiance and an obligation to each. We hope the obligations will never clash. But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

b.     Caesar and God:

In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, the newly-elected President of the United States, made the famous statement: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.  My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.  With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking God’s blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  If we personalized Kennedy’s statement it would read, “Don’t ask, ‘What can my country do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for my country?’”  And add, “Don’t ask, ‘What can God do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for God?’”  Today’s Gospel lesson gives the correct answer.

c.     Honesty and Trigonometry:  

Dr. Madison Sarratt taught Mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years.  Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class, “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty.  I hope you will pass them both, fulfilling your obligations to your teacher and to your God.  If you fail, fail for trigonometry.  There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are not many   people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty the debt we owe to God.” This piece if advice sounds like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God." 

4.  From Sermons.com


a.     A little lad with a quarter

A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?"

The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees are not being honest. They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don't want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus.

The Pharisees were so angry it blinded them. Think for a moment about the ironies here: We know, because we live on this side of the resurrection, that Jesus was God. They thought he was demonic, an agent of Satan. We know that Jesus is the King of kings. They thought he wanted to be the King of Israel. We know that he was the Son of God. They thought he was simply Joseph and Mary's son. We know that Jesus has influenced the world for 2000 years. They thought his influence would end at the cross.
It's a fascinating story. We look at the Pharisees and we shake our heads... 

 You only get one chance to make a first impression. First impressions form lasting images. The first words and first actions we present to another person resound and resonate throughout the duration of that relationship.  

It is not that we are intentionally standoffish and skittish when presented with a new face. It is more about the unconscious gurgling up of the instinctual "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" response all of us possess. Whether we experience a "first impression" as engaging or annoying, easy-going or energetic, kind-hearted or kind of weird, we default to a "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" mode. We decide whether this encounter is something we choose to face, outface, redface, or, whether we suddenly feel the call of a cup of coffee from across the room. 

Things like books as well as people make "first impressions" too. The "first impression" made by the New Testament is, frankly, not all that great. Understandably the gospels come first, and the first gospel we read is Matthew. The first seventeen verses of his opening chapter, his "first impression," is an endless list of everlasting "begats." Matthew had good theological reasons for opening with a genealogy, but for most of us it is a bit like being forced to watch a video of someone else's family reunion, or walking into a room where everyone is hugging and kissing and you know no-one.   

But if the New Testament were arranged chronologically, the first "book," the first written communication, would be Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, dated around 45 CE. Can you imagine what a different New Testament it would be if the books were in their chronological order of being written, rather than the biographical account of Jesus' life? 

First Thessalonians is the "first impression" of the written testimony of the apostle Paul, whose writings predate those of the gospels... 

b.     We Are Citizens of This World 

In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, "Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."

It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ's disciples.

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Co., Inc.

c.     Only One Top Priority 

I have heard it argued from both pulpit and pew that Jesus' words "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's" mean that a Christian is duty-bound to love America, right or wrong. I'm sorry, but I cannot agree with that. One Christian writer has said, "The greatest service Christians can render to their country is to become actively concerned about the destiny of the church."

I have also heard it argued that "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" implies a strict separation of church and state, that Jesus is dividing life into two separate and distinct parts - a spiritual part and a secular, or worldly, part. Dedicated and committed Christians have been arguing for this separation for centuries, and we probably won't settle the issue once and for all today. Their argument has been that with these words Jesus is telling us to obey God in the spiritual realm and to obey the government in everything else. Now, that's a nice, neat little division, and it solves many difficult problems. Politics is politics and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet. Let the church take care of its own business and keep their noses out of social and political issues. That would be fine if it worked. You and I both know that it doesn't. Yes, there are obligations we have to the governing authorities, such as paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and obeying civil laws. But as followers of Jesus Christ, our ultimate obligation is to "seek first the kingdom of God," and all other obligations have to have a lower priority. There can only be one top priority.

Johnny Dean, Another Tricky Question

d.     Torn Apart by Legions of Loyalties 

No one seriously denies that we all have legions of loyalties. Sometimes there are too many for our own good. I remember watching a film a few years ago in which a scene opened to show two puppeteers arguing over who would control the strings tied to a marionette on the stage below them. As they argued, one tried to wrest the strings from the other. The result was predictable. The puppet was pulled and thrown this way and that across the stage, as first one puppeteer and then the other pulled the string to an arm or leg, hand or foot.

Our many loyalties and commitments can do the same to us. We may feel that the strings of power and persuasion tied to us need only be tugged a bit, and then we have to move as they direct. The company we work for, the government we live under, the family we belong to, the possessions we own (more so, the one's we're still paying for) - all these things exercise varying degrees of control over our lives. To a large extent they determine how we spend our time, our money, our energy, our being. It isn't rare at all these days for people to be pulled in so many different directions that they jump and jerk across the stage of life, often feeling helplessly out of control.

Our problem is that there are too many Caesars before which we stand accountable. It's impossible to please them all. Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's is more than some folk feel they can handle.

D. Wayne Burkette, Life in Heaven's Kingdom, CSS Publishing Company

e.     What We the People Demand 

President James Garfield's words from 1877 still ring true. "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature ... if the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." 

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy / Stan Purdum, Sermons for Sundays: After Pentecost (Last Third): Rendering to God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

f.      Committing to Christ 

Tony Campolo, the Philadelphia sociologist, found himself seated beside the Pennsylvania governor at a state prayer breakfast. In the course of conversation the governor said that he was sympathetic toward Christianity but not personally committed. Campolo asked, "Why not?" The governor replied, "Well, to tell you the truth, no one ever invited me to commit." Campolo said, "I'm inviting you." within five minutes that governor had committed his life to Christ.

We have good news that is essential to every human being; it's a matter of their eternal life or death. We may be the only conduits God has to certain persons. We must help him reach them.

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com

"I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess." 

Martin Luther

g.     Historical Background Information: Paying Caesar 

The poll tax mentioned in this passage was levied by the Romans against the Jews beginning in A.D. 6 when Judea became a Roman province. When imposed for the first time, it provoked the rebellion of Judas the Galilean recorded in Acts 5:37 and discussed in more detail below. The Herodians favored the tax, but the Zealots, Pharisees, and people resented it. The Pharisees and the Herodians, though common adversaries in New Testament times on the very issue of rendering obedience and taxes to the Roman Empire, found themselves in common alliance in this instance to trap Christ in His words, trying to impale him on the horns of a serious dilemma. Should the authority of Caesar be recognized and the poll tax be paid to him? If Christ were to have affirmed payment of the poll tax to Caesar, he would no doubt have pleased the Herodians but would have made Himself an even greater enemy of the Pharisees and an enemy of the people who shared popular resentment to the poll tax as an unlawful imposition by a heathen government. If, by contrast, Christ were to have denied that the poll tax be paid, he would have made Himself out to be an enemy of the state and possibly, subject Himself to the charge of sedition. 

David G. Hagopian, Render to All What Is Due Them: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Honoring Civil Authority and Paying Taxes, Part 2. Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 4.

h.     It Depends On What Is Important to You 

Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, "What an interesting place to hear a cricket." 

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"
"No, I'm sure of it," his friend said, "I heard a cricket."
"That's crazy," said his friend. 

The man, who thought he had heard a cricket, listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have superhuman ears!"

"No," said the man who heard the cricket. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."
"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."
"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the man who heard the cricket. "It all depends on what's important to you."
In the end the Pharisees heard from Jesus what they were listening for. 

Keenan Kelsey, Making Choices
i.      False Dichotomies 

Let me ask you a few questions that I am sure you can answer:

 Did you put on shoes this morning, or did you come to church in a car?
Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or don't you like football?
Are you Lutheran, or do you live in America?
Will you obey God, or will you pay taxes to Caesar?

Welcome to the world of false dichotomies-thing that are wrongly set against each other, "either/or"s that really aren't. Can you wear shoes and come to church in a car? Can you eat cereal and enjoy football? Can you be Lutheran and live in America?...