Oct. 18—29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings: Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6; Psalm 96, R. Give the Lord glory and honor.; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5B; Gospel—Matthew 22: 15-21
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” We often hear this Bible verse when people want to distinguish the secular from the sacred, or emphasize the separation of Church and state.
While this does point out the separation of the two areas in our life, it also gives us a point of integration that lends our lives a sense of wholeness or integrity.
The first point to reflect on is the contrast between the Pharisees and Herodians, and Jesus. The former reek of hypocrisy disguised in finely crafted language and flattery, while the latter shines with authenticity and wisdom in simplicity.
The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Herodians first lies in the alliance itself. The Pharisees were the rigid religious leaders of the Jews, while the Herodians were the political opportunists who pledged allegiance to the Romans for them to stay in power.
The trick question is the height of this hypocrisy. Is it lawful to pay the tribute to Caesar, a Roman tax since they occupied Palestine? Yes meant denouncing Jesus to the Jews as a traitor. No meant reporting Jesus to the Romans for inciting sedition against the empire.
First, note how the two parties set aside principles to attain the end they wanted, to trap and eliminate Jesus.
Second, look at how Jesus responds to the hypocrisy. He does not play their game, cuts through their flattery, goes back to fundamentals, and defines a principle so eloquent in its simplicity.
Whose image is on the instrument to pay the tribute? Give back to him what belongs to him. The truth in all its brilliance, wisdom and simplicity!
Third, go back to why the Pharisees did this. In several encounters before this episode, Jesus was condemning them for their hypocrisy in his “woes” of the Pharisees. This was a counterattack of the Pharisees.
This is typical of people who live in hypocrisy and corruption. Instead of refuting very specific and concrete charges of Jesus, or in the extreme impossible case of humbly admitting to guilt as charged, they muddle up the issue and change the topic.
The three lessons from this episode: do not give up your most fundamental principles and core values if you are to remain truthful and authentic; fidelity to the truth, one’s truth, i.e., one’s mission and identity, and constancy in holding on to one’s core principles and values, are our best defense and offense in navigating through life; and always be open to self-examination in a truthful way, responding honestly to accusations with the openness to humbly accept one is wrong.
These are lessons we can all learn from in the age of fake news, half-truths, alternative truths. We see this all around us, globally, in the many situations where we see leaders who are supposed to be servant-leaders, yet serving only their personal and group interests.
Yes, these lessons are good standards we can measure these leaders against, but more important is that these lessons are the standards we must point to and uphold to the youth of our world, to let them make a sound judgment on what is right, truthful and authentic service. The best way is for us to try to bear witness to this in our own way, in our day-to day life.
Finally, this episode is not about the separation of Church and state, and to distinguish the secular and the sacred as if they are mutually exclusive of each other. No, the distinction made is to help us integrate the two in our life.
This reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. At the same time, it tells us that we must build God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are stewards of this world. We need to care for our planet, our common home, and our fellow human beings. —CONTRIBUTED