Homily for Twenty-ninth Sunday, year A

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 surprise that the Pharisees went away to work out between them how 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 very 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. They first of all praised Jesus. You are an honest man, you are fearless, and you teaches the way of God. They spoke like Satan, that is how the devil works, he comes in a very corny way and uses things that are very attractive 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 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 to the Jupiter temple. For the Jews, it was unacceptable, it was like worshiping idol, paying taxes to 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. So, 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 that there is 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 to God what belongs to God.

In life we sometimes find ourselves in such 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 situation, he makes way where there seem 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. He made a way for Cyrus according to our first reading this morning, not because of Cyrus, Cyrus did not know him; he did it because of Jacob his servant. In the same way, God will make a 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 was 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 the image of Caesar 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 dont forget that Caesar was a man who carried the image of God, so, both Caesar and the coin belongs to God.

The call today is to give our lives to God, not a call to stop paying taxes to the government. Our Christian faith and worship does 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 confident in his love for us is very important, 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.

Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA

Joel Okojie is an ordained Catholic Priest in the Order of St. Augustine. He has been a Priest for over a decade. He served as pastor in two different parishes, he was one time Novice Master and a member of the Provincial Council of the province of St. Augustine of Nigeria, and he is currently on a mission in response to the needs of the Church in Canada.

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