Where Do Our Loyalties Lie?

Sunday of Week 29 in Ordinary Time - Year A

Mt. 22:15-21

Jesus is placed by His enemies in what we would call a difficult situation in today's Gospel reading. He is approached by an alliance of two groups, the Herodians who supported the politics of Rome, and the Pharisees who were opposed to the Roman occupation of Palestine!

So how did they come to be working together? Simply because they had a common enemy - and He was Jesus. I think the main enemies of Jesus were the Pharisees because He could see through their hypocrisy and they knew it. This really infuriated them. They wanted the people to think that they were good, pious and holy. He was a threat Who had to be eliminated. Now they thought they had a foolproof plan to corner Jesus and get rid of Him for good.

The question they asked Jesus was not an easy one. Do you pay taxes to Caesar or not? The Jews were required to pay taxes to support the Roman government. They hated this taxation because the money went directly into Caesar’s treasury, where some of it went to support the pagan temples and decadent life-style of the Roman aristocracy. If Jesus said you should pay these taxes He would be siding with the Herodians. If He allowed people to evade taxes to Caesar, He would be liable to be arrested as a traitor.

We must remember, too, that this trick question was asked during the volatile week of the Passover, in the shadow of the Temple. The Jewish zealots were looking for a leader to spark a riot against Rome. The Romans were always on their guard to put out any signs of trouble that may ignite.

What was Jesus to do? He was not afraid to call them, “Hypocrites” but was too wise for them and certainly was not going to be outwitted by them. He asked to see the coin by which they paid the tax and whose face was on it. In doing this He cleverly avoided the trap. They told Him Caesar’s image was on the coins - a constant reminder of Israel’s subjection to Rome. And their saying this meant Jesus was able to reply, “Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” He was maintaining that it was right to pay dues to Caesar.

This is because it was the Romans who built and maintained their roads, and enforced law and order which was far better than anarchy. And after Jesus told them it was right to pay their taxes He adds, “Give back to God what belongs to God.”

How clever is Jesus! He not only answers their question but He seizes this opportunity to teach them a profound lesson: we all have a dual citizenship, one to Caesar and one to God. Caesar needs our money in order to keep order, to help build the infrastructure of society. God on the other hand doesn’t want our taxes. He does not need us to take up arms in His defence. What He does want is our love and loyalty. He wants to be treated as God, One to whom we owe our complete allegiance.

Saint Thomas More was the perfect example who understood and lived out this truth in his life in England some 1500 years later when he said, “I am the king’s true subject, but God’s first.” The manner in which Jesus answered their question exposed their evil motives and embarrassed both Herodians and Pharisees.

Lord Jesus, we thank You for masterfully teaching us that we have a dual citizenship. Our country requires that we pay money for the services and benefits we receive. Our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven requires that we pledge to God our primary obedience and commitment. Help us to fulfil our duties to both in ou