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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct.

19, 2014
(Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21)

The surprise element in the Isaiah reading is that the Lord, Israels
God, anointed Cyrus, a foreign leader, to be his anointed agent. The
prophet argues that the Lord has chosen Cyrus by name as Israels
redeemer. Cyrus will begin the process of ending the exile in
Babylonia, as he grants release to the former captives, to allow them to
return to their homeland. Isaiah uses this as proof that there is only one
God in all the earth, because this God makes use of the foreigner,
Cyrus, to be the agent of change in the captives enslavement.
The extent of the Lords reach is from the rising to the setting of
the sun. Moreover, the Lord can make use of even foreigners to carry
out the Lords will. This is one way of providing victory out of defeat,
by claiming that the Lord was behind it all the time. I am the Lord,
there is no other!
The Gospel is only very loosely connected with the first reading
as it relates an encounter with the Pharisees. They were trying to find
some way of trapping Jesus in something he said.
They joined with the Herodians, a group who supported Herod, or
the Herod dynasty or kingship generally, which the Herod family had
enjoyed at the pleasure of Caesar, until they fell out of favor with
Rome. Some commentators suggested they were actually pro-
monarchy, but anti-Roman. In the end it is hard to say who they were
since they are only mentioned in Mark and Matthew. It is likely that
they were a strange grouping to be linked with the Pharisees, who
were undeniably anti-Roman. Mark and Matthew intended them to be
united in their opposition to Jesus.
The trap they set for Jesus involved, of all things, taxes,
specifically whether it was legal (according to Jewish Law) to pay the
tax to the Roman Caesar. The question is timely since politicians at
this time of year are always blathering away about either lowering or
raising taxes. However, the tax in question was a tax paid to the
Romans as the victorious occupiers. It angered many Jews and
especially the Pharisees. The trap was if Jesus opposed the tax openly
then he opposed Rome. If he said to pay it, then many Jews would
have thought him a collaborator with Rome.
The hypocrisy of his questioners showed immediately as they
produced a coin (a denarius) with Caesars head inscribed on it and an
inscription mentioning the divine Caesar. This they produced while
moving about freely in the Temple area in violation of the first
commandment which forbade even the possession of graven images.
The classic escape Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God
what is Gods has become almost a battle cry for opponents of paying
taxes altogether. They who do, miss the point of this debate. It
involved paying foreign occupiers of ones land for occupying ones
land. Paying legitimate taxes for services that provide for the common
good, are not only lawful but necessary. It is shameful that more
rational discussion about what best serves the common good is too
often drowned out by the fanatical fringe.
In any case, the incident here is presented as barely a challenge
for Jesus. His answer does not answer their question. No doubt, his
questioners were flummoxed when they heard this response, but
people ever since have been singing the praises of Jesus standing up
against taxes. Heres an appeal to read the Gospel selection again.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer