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Give to God the things that are God’s PDF Print E-mail

19 October 2014: Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - World Mission Sunday

Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and to God the things that are God’s

The question that Jesus’ enemies put to him about paying tax was deadly. It was an attempt to wedge Jesus. Palestine was occupied by the Romans who made all the important decisions. The Jewish people resented Roman rule and believed that God was their real ruler, not the Emperor. So they saw paying taxes as an affront both to their nation and to their God. If Jesus agreed with paying taxes he was finished with his own people.

Give to God the things that are God’s

The Roman authorities in Palestine had the job of collecting taxes for the Emperor and of keeping the region pacified. So they were paranoid about people who resisted paying taxes and about religious figures who urged people not to pay them. A campaign against taxes could threaten civil disorder and ultimately their own authority. So if Jesus’ enemies dobbed him in to the Romans as a tax resister, they would probably arrest him.

Jesus’ response was to ask his questioners for a coin, and ask whose face was on it. They said it was the Emperor’s. Jesus’ conclusion was that tax belonged to Caesar, but God should also be given what belonged to God. He did not answer their question directly but left them with a deeper question, ‘What belonged to God?’ If they thought this question through they would have seen that human lives and people themselves belonged to God, not to the Emperor. Which suggested that the faces on coins, which represented people, also belonged to God.

Much of Christian history has been concerned with defending what belongs to God in the face of State takeover. States often try to take possession of people, to treat them as things, and not to respect their dignity as people who are deeply loved by God. Many Catholics have resisted this tyranny, for example, by refusing to fight in a war they believed to be unjust or by criticising the Australian treatment of people who seek protection.

The work of Jesuit Social Services has been to attend to the faces that belong to God, and especially poor and scorned people whose faces will never appear on coins. Jesuit Social Services works especially with disadvantaged young people whose background and mental health issues make them vulnerable. They are often treated as expendable by governments at times of financial pressure. They can be dismissed as dolebludgers, addicts, losers and as a risk to the community. At these times they need people who will accompany them and will advocate for them and their needs.

The Gospel invites us to ask ourselves how we care for those who belong to God, especially those who bear the image of the king – of Christ suffering.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ | Image from Hermano Leon Clipart

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