29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - 22nd October, 2017

Liturgical Reflection

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 Thessalonian 1:1-5 Matthew 22:15-21

Have you ever found yourself sitting uncomfortably on the horns of a dilemma? How many horns did it have to torment you? How did you go about resolving it?

In today’s Gospel reading the Pharisees and the Herodians, for different reasons, present Jesus with a dilemma, hoping to trap him into an incriminating response. So they first flatter him with compliments about the truth of his teaching about God and his disregard for human opinions. Then comes the question: ‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’

For the Herodians, paying the tax – one day’s wage per year – was a way of staying in favour with the Roman authorities. So, no dilemma for them. However, the inscription around the emperor’s image on the coin referred to him as the ‘August son of the divine Augustus’, and the inscription on the reverse named him ‘Pontifex Maximus’. For the Pharisees, these titles were blasphemous, so for them the tax was a dilemma with two horns, one political, the other religious. Neither of the questioners were concerned that the tax was a hardship for the poor. Their one purpose was to incriminate Jesus and/or turn his followers away.

Jesus turned the trap set for him into a challenge for them, reminding them that their question was one they must answer for themselves, making a decision according to their understanding of their duties to God as set down in the Torah. For them, ‘all things’ belonged to God, who has first claim on their loyalty. The same dilemma, the same challenge confronts Christians in every age and every nation. In a democracy we may face it wherever we cast a vote. In between elections, it may confront us in the form of unjust policies, unjust laws. So Jesus challenges us, as citizens, to deal with secular authorities according to God’s values, making our political decisions in response to the law of love that God has ‘implanted in our hearts’.

Sr Mary Britt OP