Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

Matthew 22: 15 – 21


May we the children of God, take the Word of God, into the presence of God and allow the Spirit of God, to make the Word come alive in us.

At that he said to them,

“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar

and repay to God what belongs to God.”

Here we have a wisdom saying. This teaches us a universal truth, values that are just as valid today as they were when Jesus gave this teaching. As you listen to this story use your imagination to enter deeply into the emotions of the characters involved; the Pharisees behind he scene; the messengers and Jesus. This truth should touch us so deeply that e respond with gratitude, and also with humility as we realise that we do not always live up to it.

15Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech. 16They 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. 17Tell us, then what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said,

“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”

Then they handed him the Roman coin. 20He said to them,

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

21They replied,


At that he said to them,

“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

In 63 BC Israel was conquered by the Romans and became part of the empire. Some sixty years later in 6 AD a head tax (census tax) was imposed by the regional ruler Quirinius. Not surprisingly, this made the Jewish people even more hostile to Roman rule. At the time of Jesus ministry, when this story begins, Galilee was a hotbed of revolt.

It was just before Passover and the good Jewish people of Galilee were flocking to Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate the Roman governor ordered reinforcements to be sent from his capital Caesarea and he himself moved to Jerusalem just in case trouble should break out. Political tension was everywhere.

There was also great tension between Jesus of Nazareth and the religious authorities. Matthew tells us about the running battle that raged between the Scribes, Pharisees and Chief Priests on one side and Jesus on the other. No wonder that:

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.

Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not, they ask.

If he speaks against the taxation he will certainly be in trouble with to the Roman authorities. If he speaks in favour of the taxation he will lose many of his followers.

“Show me the coin that pays the census tax,” he demands. On one side of the coin was an image of the Emperor Tiberius, and on the other the inscription ‘Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, High Priest.’ The Law forbad the making of images. No Jew could have countenanced the claim that the Emperor made to be divine, and yet they were quite happy to produce it and show it to Jesus. If they really objected to the coin, what were they doing with one?

At that he said to them,

“Then repay (give back) to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus first teaching is quite clear. We have a moral as well as a civil duty to contribute to the common good though the payment of just taxes.

The coin of taxation has Caesar’s image on it. Where do we find the image of God?What do we have to give back to God?

“God created humanity in his image, in the divine image he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1: 27) Nobody has the right to dominate us, enslave us, to oppress us; we belong to God. Exploitation of workers, prostitution, humiliation, mistreatment of others and burdening others with guilt, are all ways of treating the human person as an object. It is urgent that whoever has “stolen” the human person from God, make amends.

At the Beginning of Matthew’s Gospel both John the Baptist and Jesus ask us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (3: 2; 4: 17) Jesus’ vision, called for radical change. He saw that political revolt could only result in the destruction of his fellow Jews. (23: 37-39) His action of cleansing the temple was a challenge to the burdensome, guilt ridden, exploitation of religious practice. Jesus saw how unjust the economic system was. In the parable of the talents he openly condemned it. (25: 14-30) He defied the unfair social structure of the time by identifying with all the marginalized and oppressed. This is why he called himself the “Son of Man.”

Do we live up to this vision or do we still have to “Repent”?

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