TWENTYNINTH SUNDAY A: HOMLIY by Fr. Matthias Lusembo
THEME: REPAY TO CAESAR WHAT BELONGS TO CAESAR AND TO GOD WHAT BELONGS TO GOD
Objective: That we may implement justice where it is due.
In Matthew 22:15-21, the Pharisees (Representing Jews) and Herodians (representing the Roman Empire) send representatives to entrap Jesus with a dangerous question. The question is: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? In other words: Is it lawful for the Jews to pay the tax demanded by Caesar?
Caesar is a Roman Emperor forcing Jews to pay taxes. The coin that is used to pay the census tax carries not only the image of Caesar, but also the claim that he is son of the Divine Augustus. This implies that Caesar claims to be a god! Paying taxes to him is idolatry. Refusing to pay is rebellious, moreover Jesus already removed Matthew from the tax collection booth. So, how can Jesus answer the dangerous question?
Jesus, in His wisdom, demands that they show him the coin which is used to pay the census tax. This demand dissociates him from idolatry, because it proves that he did not possess the idolatrous coin. On the coin Jesus notices the image which belongs to Caesar and the word “Divine” which does not belong to Caesar, but to God.
So, Jesus commands thus: “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Mt 22:21). The coin belongs to Caesar; but the divinity indicated on the coin belongs to God. He does not say “pay taxes”. Nor does he say “Do not pay them.” He says: “Give back; repay”. Give the coin back to Caesar and the divinity to God. Do not call Caesar or any earthly leader divine. For the Lord says, in Is 45:5, “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”
Christ justifies the “giving back” of the coin because of the image He sees on it. What does this imply for human beings who bear the image of God (Gn1:26)? Automatically it connotes that human beings belong to God; hence they are supposed to give themselves back to God. Earthly leaders may possess money, but they do not possess humans. Human beings belong to God. Human beings do not and must not own fellow human beings. “Nobody has a right to dominate us, to enslave us, to oppress us: We are sacred, we belong to God.” (Armellini F. Celebrating the Word, Year A, p. 282).
A human being is not an object to be enslaved. Exploitation of workers, prostitution, humiliation and mistreatment of one’s spouse are actions that do not respect God’s image in every human being.
Respecting God’s image in every human being means, first and foremost, protecting human life from conception to natural death, not only unborn babies. It connotes providing whatever one can afford to sustain and develop human life, even babies born out of wedlock like Jesus. It necessitates removing and preventing circumstances that cause abortion or suicide. We know that many abortions are caused by incest, rape, poverty, or even selfishness.
Any pro-lifer should avoid incest, rape, familiarity among relatives and any other misconduct that may cause the so-called un-wanted pregnancies and abortions. Governments should provide necessities, especially medical care to the poor so that they do not desperately abort their babies or commit suicide. Whenever you have a system that cares for the poor without discrimination there are less abortions. Examine official abortion statistics from 1973 to date, year by year, taking into consideration whether the government of the time cared for the poor. You will confirm what I am saying.
Let us respect God’s image in every human being also by protecting people from diseases and viruses, like the Corona Virus. Any pro-lifer certainly wears a mask to protect his/her life and the lives of others.
The Holy Eucharist which we are celebrating reminds us that God found it so important to liberate His image in human beings that He died for humans.
So please, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. The right to terminate human life belongs to God because God is the source of life. The ultimate supreme court over human life is made of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who already abolished the Rovie Wade law in the 5th commandment, before it was promulgated. And it is wiser to obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29) because God created us, sustains and has our destiny in his hands.
This is the message every baptized person is expected to proclaim, because all the baptized are God’s messengers. As we celebrate World Mission Sunday, we need to remember that we have a duty to spread the gospel that defends both the rights of God and the rights of every human being, especially the right to life. Pope Francis reminds us to bring Christ’s love to those most forgotten, our brothers and sisters around the world. He asks us to respond on this Sunday through prayer and generous sacrifice to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, encouraging us to answer, “Here I am, Send Me.” If you feel called to become a ministerial priest or religious, do not hesitate to embrace the vocation to save God’s image.
Most of the people in the world are not yet disciples of Jesus, the way to heaven. And many of those who claim to be Christians are not practicing what Jesus taught! Let us all participate in liberating God’s image. Repay to Caesar (government) what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
This homily will appear on my blog on CTK website by Tuesday. You are free to send any part of it to anyone. (Silence……. I seem to have heard Jesus say: “I am Jesus and I approve this message.”)