Teaching in Parables
Father Dan Juelfs
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 22, 2023
today’s Gospel, we find another one of those occasions where the Jewish leadership was trying to trap Jesus into saying something that they could condemn him for. Something against their situation. Something that would cause him to put himself in a bind as far as whether he was pleasing the people or not.
The situation, of course, was the fact that the right of the Roman government to charge a tax, and the question was it lawful for that tax or not. If Jesus says yes, then he’s going to upset all of the Jewish people who really don’t want to pay a tax to the occupying government. And if he says no, of course, then he’s in trouble with the government. So, they’re trying to get him to respond one way or another and Jesus doesn’t fall into that. He just simply says pay to God what is Gods, and to Caesar what is Caesars.
But what does that say? What does that mean? What does that sentence mean? What was Jesus trying to teach the people of his time? What’s he trying to teach us? We know that Jesus paid the tax, at least we know the temple tax, because he sent Peter off to go fishing and catch a fish that had a coin in its mouth, so they’d have the money to pay the tax. Most of us couldn’t do that. Neither could most of the Jewish people, but that’s not how it worked. So he wasn’t against paying tax, per se. He allowed those things to happen.
We also know that Jesus had some kind of respect for civil authority. How did he respond to that? The best example we have of that is in our reading the Passion on Good Friday when Pilot says, “I have the authority to condemn you or to let you live,” and Jesus’ response is, “You wouldn’t have any authority at all if it didn’t come from above.”
Jesus was willing to recognize the authority that Pilot was claiming but reminding Pilot what was the source of that authority. Pilot didn’t have that authority on his own. He may have been the governor. He may have been who the Roman government put in place but whatever authority he had came from the power of God.
I think as we listen to this particular Gospel passage and then put it in the context of those other places where Jesus was dealing with authority — whether it was the ability to pay tax or the authority that Pilot seemed to have over him or wanted to have over him — Jesus puts a context to it. He sees all authority as coming from the God who has created us. All authority comes from the one who has power over all things. Yes, God shares that authority with us. He gives us the opportunity and the responsibility to share that, to use that authority, but always remembering the context. Always remembering where it comes from. That God calls us from the time of creation to use and care for everything that he has made. That becomes the standard which Jesus uses.
I think as we listen to today’s Gospel, as we listen to and put it into context to some of the other Gospels that we’ve seen, it’s a call for us to keep everything in that perspective. Yes, we have authority. We’re created by God. We’re also subject to God in everything that we do. And while God shares authority with us, it’s not a matter of having complete authority but rather using the creation that God has given us to care for and provide for our needs and the needs of the people around us.
Repay Caesar what’s due Caesars and God what’s due to God. Yes, there’s a place and a responsibility for our own authority and our own place and our call the respect that, to repay as it were, to keep that context going. But on the other hand, we have to remember that everything comes ultimately from God. The authority, the power, and the ability to respond come from the God who made us the God who intends us to share with him and help him complete the reality of our salvation.