Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle A

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Matthew 22.15-21

"Give to God what is God's"

Confrontation was always a part of life for Jesus. Now Pharisees and Herodians, long-standing sworn enemies, patch up their differences and come together in the hope of compromising him. They tried to catch him out between their two factions with a question about “paying taxes” to the Romans. But Jesus unmasks their trickery. He is handed a coin and points out what is implied in the inscription which would have read, “Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus, great high priest”. Caesar claimed not only political sovereignty but also divine attributes. Caesar claims absolute power over the people, and his image on the coin is an expression of his claim.

So, says Jesus, “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” and then he adds “give to God what is God’s.” As usual Jesus has gone beyond the original question. Here is a firm reminder that even Caesar is answerable to God. Political power may be oppressive but it is never absolute. We owe allegiance to civil authorities, but those authorities themselves owe allegiance to God. We are all, in some way, the citizens of two kingdoms: citizens of this country and citizens in God’s Kingdom. Jesus says they both require certain loyalties from us.

Today’s Gospel makes it very clear that we have two responsibilities: to the government of our country and to God. Where both are in harmony there is no conflict. However, there can be times when obedience to God’s law will bring us into conflict with civil authorities. To “give to God what is God’s” is sometimes very difficult, but if we really love our country, then in loyalty to both we have to stand for what is right.