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Homily for Twenty-ninth Sunday, year A

20 Oct 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Sermons

In some of Jesus’ parables, he directly attacked the chief priests, the elders of the people, the scribes, and the Pharisees. He condemned their attitude towards religion, their legalistic approach to the worship of God. They were the rejected guests in the parable of the wedding feast, they were the wicked tenants in the parable of the landowner, and they were the son who said “certainly sir” but did not do what the father asked him to do in the parable of the two sons. With these attacks, we are not surprised that the Pharisees went away to work out to trap Jesus. They conspired with the Herodians to set Jesus up against his own people or the Roman government by sending their disciples to ask Jesus a sensitive question. These foot soldiers came with sugar-coated tongues, they said to Jesus, Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

These people did not come directly. The first of all praised Jesus. You are an honest man, you are fearless, and you teach the way of God. They spoke like Satan; that is how the devil works; he comes in a corny way and uses beautiful things to lure us into his trap. That is what the Pharisees and their collaborators wanted to do to Jesus, to put him in a dilemma, to make him fight his own people or the Roman government.

The Jews were used to taxation, they were commanded to pay the temple tax, and they had no problem with it. But after that temple was destroyed, the Roman government insisted that the Jews must continue to pay the temple tax no longer to their own rebuilt temple but the Jupiter temple. For the Jews, it was unacceptable; it was like worshiping an idol, paying taxes to a pagan idol; they never liked it but were forced to pay it. So, the Pharisees tried to put Jesus in between his own people and the government. If Jesus had said that it was wrong to pay the tax, he would have been in trouble with the Roman government. And if he said it was right to pay the tax, his own people would have turned against him. In his wisdom, he refused to say yes or no. he said to them, You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with. He looked at it and discovered an image on the coin, he asked them, Whose head is this? Whose name? When they answered Caesar’s, He then said to them, very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.

In life, we sometimes find ourselves in such a dilemma, in a situation where we cannot move backward or forward. But I remind you this morning that we worship a God who knows what to do in such a situation; he makes a way where there seems to be no way. The people of Israel were at a point between the Egyptian army and the sea; to move backward was to fall by the sword, and to move forward was to get drown, but God made a way in the sea. According to our first reading this morning, he made way for Cyrus, not because of Cyrus, Cyrus did not know him; he did it because of Jacob, his servant. In the same way, God will make way for us, not because we are so good but for the sake of Jesus Christ, his Son.

Jesus said, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the coin. But one may ask, how did the coin belong to Caesar? The coin belonged to him because his image and name were on it.

At creation, God said, let us make man in our own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26), and he made man in his own image and likeness. As the coin carried Caesar’s image, therefore, so also man carries the image of God. So, give Caesar the coin, it carries his image, and then your soul to God because your soul carries the image of God. But don’t forget that Caesar was a man who carried the image of God, so both Caesar and the coin belongs to God.

Today, the call is to give our lives to God, not a call to stop paying taxes to the government. Our Christian faith and worship do not stop our civic responsibilities. The Church expects everyone to be loyal to constituted authority and at the same time to be conscious of the image we carry. Knowing that we belong to God and to develop that confidence in his love for us is essential; he loves us, not because of any other thing but because of who we are; his children. Let us, therefore, learn to live in his love.