This week’s scripture commentary


. by Fr. Antton

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Sunday October 22, 2017
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Gospel Mt 22: 15-21

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Ebanjelioa Mateo 22: 15-21

15 Fariseuek elkar hartu zuten, Jesusi galdera bat eginez tranpa jartzeko. 16 Beraz, ikasle batzuk bidali zizkioten, Herodesen alderdikoekin, galdetzera: –Maisu, badakigu egiazale zarena eta Jainkoaren bidea behar bezala irakasten duzuna; inoren zeresanak ez dizu axolarik, ez baitiozu begiratzen gizakiaren itxurari. 17 Emaguzu, bada, zeure iritzia: zilegi al da Zesarri zerga ordaintzea, bai ala ez? 18 Haien maltzurkeria igarriz, Jesusek esan zien: –Zergatik zatozkidate zirika, itxurazaleok? 19 Ea, erakutsi zerga-txanpona. Haiek denario bat aurkeztu zioten. 20 Jesusek galdetu zien: –Norenak dira irudi eta izen hauek? 21 Erantzun zioten: –Zesarrenak. Jesusek, orduan: –Eman, bada, Zesarrena Zesarri eta Jainkoarena Jainkoari.

The Poor Belong to God

Behind Jesus, the Pharisees agreed among them to prepare a critical trap to see how they could make HIM fall. They themselves do not dare to come to meet Jesus personally. They decided instead to send some of their followers backed and accompanied by some supporters of king Herod Antipas. Provably there were among these, also some powerful people, tax collectors, supporting the Roman rulers.

The question is a tricky one and well thought out. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” A negative answer immediately meant a rebellion against Rome. A positive answer would put into question Jesus’ love and commitment for the poor peasants of his time already overburdened by taxes. Jesus’ smart answer has been faithfully transmitted to us through centuries: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Few words attributed to Jesus have been so often quoted all along history and perhaps so distorted and manipulated by providing a meaning so far away from the intention of the Prophet, the defender of the poor. Jesus was not thinking about God and the Caesar of Rome as two separate and independent powers, each demanding in “their” field and total submission from their subjects. As any other faithful Jew, Jesus knows that to God “belongs the earth and all that it contains, the world and all its inhabitants” (Psalm 24). What can be of the Caesar that does not belong to God? The subjects the emperor considers “his” are they not also the daughters and sons of God?

Jesus does not stop to consider the different political positions of the time, which confronted the Herodians, Sadducees and Pharisees over paying suzerain tribute to Rome and the meaning of it: if they carry in their pockets, the “tax coin” let them fulfill their obligations! Nevertheless, Jesus shows that he does not live at the service of the Roman Empire, but rather He lives making inroads into the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Consequently, Jesus answers a question no one asked him: “Give to God what is God’s.” That is, do not give any Caesar what is God’s alone: namely, the very life of HIS children. Jesus has announced it repeatedly in front of his followers, that the poor belong to God, that they are the little ones, HIS favorite people, and that the kingdom of God belongs to them, and only to them. No one has the right of taking advantage of them or abuse them.

Jesus, like then, today too, denounces from the top of his voice, that human power (that’s to say: Caesar) is sacrificing millions of lives, the dignity and the happiness of millions of people with its faceless and cruel dictatorship of the economic and national security policies’ power, which is leading to more suffering, more hunger and more destruction.

That is why Pope Francis has repeated several times that money (and its succedanea means) have become the god, which symbolizes this new dictatorship, to which so many pay their taxes (obedience and loyalty). We cannot remain living our Christian faith in a passive and indifferent silence as we witness the growth of such a dictatorship.