Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time… October 18, 2020

by Judith Moe McCallum, Notre Dame Associate

A denarius featuring Tiberius. The inscription on the obverse reads Ti [berivs] Caesar Divi Avg [vsti] F [ilivs] Avgvstvs (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus “), the reverse reads Pontif [ex] Maxim [us] (“Highest Priest”).

Matthew 22: 15-21

Jesus is approached by the Pharisees and Herodians hoping to trap him through false flattery into incriminating himself. Christ sees through their hypocrisy as they ask him: “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar? “

Jesus cannot say it is wrong to pay tribute without going up against the Roman government. Therefore, he asks a rabbinical counter question: “Show me the coin of the tribute.” They produce a denarius, the coin of the realm. Christ asks, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They answer, “Caesar’s.” Then He said unto them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus invites his audience to decide where their allegiance lies: The original question is not answered. The gospel tells us they went away amazed.

Christ wants us to feel God’s deep, abiding love for us so that flattery cannot trap us into believing false narratives. He teaches us to recognize hypocrisy, the big smile masking a hidden agenda. He offers us the example of asking a counter question so that the narrative is in our hands and we do not fall into the net cast for us. At this moment, our brothers and sisters are crying out for racial justice, immigrants are vilified, climate change is devastating the planet, children are hungry, and a pandemic is raging. How do we counter those hypocrites who approach us hoping to trick us into believing all is well, that the exclusion of others will save us, and to render everything to “Caesar?” As we are called to this task, let us trust that Christ will guide us and grant us courage, for we know in the depths of our hearts: All Things Belong to God. Let us pray we find a way to leave them amazed.