Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6; Psalm 96: 1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5b; Matthew 22: 15-21
First Reading: The Cyrus mentioned in today’s first reading was the Persian king who conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jewish people to return to their land and rebuild the Temple. Accordingly, Isaiah looks upon him as God’s chosen or anointed one regardless of whether he knows Israel’s God or not.
Psalm 96: Psalm 96 is officially called an “enthronement hymn,” meaning that it is to be sung as a celebration of the kingship of God. In the context of today’s liturgy, the mighty acts of the Lord through the accomplishments of Cyrus.
Second Reading: In today’s second reading, the Thessalonians are commended for their faith in action and their endurance in hope.
Gospel: The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders continues to mount in today’s Gospel. They try to “set up” an opposition between obedience to civil law and covenant fidelity, thus requiring Jesus to make a choice between them. Jesus sees their ruse and affirms the just claims of both.
Reflection: Do you like to pay taxes? I hate paying taxes, but I do it out of my obligation to assist the community. Is this the motivation with the Pharisees in their question of Jesus? No, they are really working to entrap him more than anything. If Jesus doesn’t affirm paying taxes, he is against “Caesar”; if he affirms the payment of the tax, he is putting “Caesar” ahead of God. What a pickle! However, as we learn in the last verse of today’s gospel passage, Jesus does neither. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The obligations to Caesar and God are very different: to the state we pay taxes, but to God we give undivided service and worship. If we keep God central in our lives, then there is no problem with giving to “Caesar” what belongs to “Caesar.”
What God wants most from us isn’t money! What God asks of us is the self-offering that acknowledges who God is and who we are in relation to God. In return, God gives what no emperor or state can give: a share in divine life.
Often our struggle with living this gospel is not really about two “kingdoms” presenting opposing values but about our own selfish values trumping everything else. The kind of self-giving that gives to God what is God’s due and to society what is society’s due necessitates that we think of others first. It truly is that simple, yet sometimes so hard to live!
Question for Reflection: What and who helps me give to God what belongs to God?
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