Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Jesus told those who came questioning him to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. What do you possess that does not belong to God?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection October 22 2023. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: American Numismatic Society, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; Münzkabinett Berlin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
In the Gospels for the last three Sundays Jesus has addressed the chief priests and the elders of the people with parables. Three weeks ago, Jesus told the parable of the father who told his two sons to go and work in the vineyard. Two weeks ago, the Gospel told of Jesus addressing the elders with the parable of the landowner who had built a vineyard and entrusted its care to others but expected his share of the harvest. Last week Jesus again addressed the chief priests and the elders with the parable of a father who prepares a great wedding banquet for his son. Even though many invited guests do not come, the father invites the sinners and the outcast until the banquet is full. All three of the parables contain a criticism of the religious leaders for failing to be authentic leaders.
In response, those same religious leaders join with the Herodians in an effort to trap and discredit Jesus. Their effort to do so is our Gospel text for this Sunday.
Given that Jesus has been critical of the religious leadership of the day, it is no surprise that he would be challenged by them. But it is not the chief priests but rather the Pharisees and the Herodians who approach Jesus with a question that they hope will damage his credibility. The Pharisees, as a group, were tolerant of Roman rule, but would have rejected any claim of Caesar’s divinity. The Herodians would have been supportive of Roman rule to preserve peace. Normally, these two groups did not share a common interest, but they came together to trap Jesus with their questions.
In response to their questions, Jesus asks them to show him the coin used to pay the temple tax. At that time, the coin was inscribed with the image of Emperor Tiberius and the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” The coin would have been the typical daily wage for laborers, and ordinary peasants would not have the luxury of carrying such wealth. To possess such a coin would have been an embarrassment to the Pharisees.
- How does your political tolerance affect your ability to hear God speaking through a politically charged Gospel passage?
- Have there been times in your life when you took a public stand for or against a position? What was it about that situation that was compelling you to take a stand?
- How do you feel about Jesus in the Gospel being caught in a political struggle?
- In the Gospel, those who approach Jesus compliment him as a person who is not concerned with anyone’s opinion. Where in the Gospels do you see examples of Jesus not being concerned with the opinions of others? Where is he also a person who is very much concerned with the opinions of others?
- They also say of him that he is not concerned with a person’s status. Where in the Gospels do you find examples of Jesus’ disregard of a person’s status? Are there also places where he seems to be concerned about the status of others?
- Jesus told those who came questioning him to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. What do you possess that does not belong to God?
- Can you take some time to talk with God about your desire to be a person who respects God and lives in the world today, or about your awareness of how the opinions of others affect what you say or don’t say, or about some other awareness that arose in you from this Gospel?