29th Sunday: Caesar and God

Father Joseph Pelligrino

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
October 16 2011

Well, they really thought they had him this time. The intelligentsia of First Century Judaism really had Jesus in a no win situation. They were so proud of themselves. They were so smart. He was dead in the water no matter what he said. They started by laying it on thick, “We know you are an honest man, and that you teach according to the truth without regard to anyone’s opinion or status,” now here comes the zinger, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not.”

You know they smirked, just like the wise brat in eighth grade who figures he finally can demonstrate to the class how he is so much smarter than the teacher. The question itself demonstrated their intelligence. What could Jesus say? If he said that it is not lawful to pay the tax, then he would instantly be arrested as a rebel and zealot, an enemy of Rome, part of the Jewish resistance movement. If he said that it was lawful to pay the tax, he would be exposed as a supporter of pagans, not a true Jew but a collaborator with Rome. They really had him this time.

Or so they thought. In one succinct phrase, Jesus demonstrated how a person should choose in matters of religion and state: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” And they went away marveling, knowing that they had been outwitted, no, more than that, knowing that they had underestimated Jesus’ wisdom.

“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Patriotism is a virtue. A good Christian should be a good citizen. A good Christian should be willing to stand up for and even fight for the values that make a country great: freedom, liberty, the rights of people, particularly the rights of the most needy of our society.

There is a story about a minister who in the early part of the last century was asked to give the Memorial Day address at the national cemetery in Gettysburg, PA. Like most of the speakers in previous years, he felt a need to conclude his talk by reciting Lincoln’s famous address. The minister thought that the speech had gone well, but afterwards an old man came forward and said to him, “Son, you’ve made an awful mess of Lincoln’s speech.” Taken aback the minister said, “How so, I didn’t miss a word. Look, here are my notes.” “Oh, I don’t need your notes,” said the man, “I know it by heart. You see I heard it the first time around.’ The minister then realized that this man had been present when Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. So the minister asked, “How did my recitation differ from that of the great president?” The old man said, “Abe put his hands out over the people like a benediction and said, ‘That the government of the people, by the people and for the people, should not perish from the earth.’ You got the words right,” the old man said, “but you got the emphasis wrong and you missed the message. You emphasized government. Lincoln talked about people.”

When government seeks to provide for the just welfare of its citizens, it is doing the work of God. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Jesus’ response tells us that one’s citizenship does not have to be at odds with one’s faith. As patriotic Americans, we need to participate in the affairs of our government responsibly and intelligently so that our public policies may reflect the wisdom and justice of God.

Patriotism as a virtue means keeping the proper order of Christian priorities. The old expression “My country right or wrong but my country,” is not valid for the Christian when that means participating in immoral acts. For example, the Christian would be wrong to support and fight for abortion simply because abortion is a law of our country. The Christian would also be wrong if he or she does not fight for just and moral laws.

We have the right and the responsibility to apply a moral litmus test to the dictates of our nation. The people of Germany did not do this in their own country during the last century and closed an eye to Nazi anti-Semitism. They now suffer the guilt imposed by their lack of action. So also, Americans were either not knowledgeable or unwilling to learn what exactly the country was doing to Native Americans and Africans during the eighteenth and nineteenth century and now suffers the guilt imposed by lack of action.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees confronts them and us with the demand to act out of our deepest convictions and take responsibility for those actions whether we are leaders or followers, whether we identify ourselves at a particular moment as Christians or as citizens.

The Pharisees had it all wrong. There is no dilemma between the choice of Caesar or God. At least, there is no dilemma when we are determined to instill, foster and support morality in the actions of our government.


A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 16, 2011

Render Unto Caesar
Despite their flattering words, they were trying to trap him, to force him into a no-win situation.

Consider the circumstances. They are living under the iron boot of a brutal empire which filled the earth with its idolatry. Patriotic Jews longed to throw off the yoke of the tyrants. They prayed for an anointed king who would free them from the Romans as David had freed them from the Philistines. Anyone advocating collaboration with the invaders could not possibly be the hoped-for Messiah. No, he would appear as a traitor. But on the other hand, anyone preaching resistance to Rome would be branded an enemy of the Empire and would wind up suspended from a cross.

Money in the image of Caesar, and man in the image of God
Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.”


The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians sought to trap our Savior by asking him the question of the tax – Is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar? In response to this, the good Jesus points out that the image of Caesar is on the coin – but that we are to render to God what is God’s.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Pharisees decide to trap Jesus. They have taken enough stick from him and now they decide it is pay back time.

St Matthew’s Gospel is put together in several great sweeps. First there is the Genealogy and the Infancy Narratives, then we move to the Baptism of Jesus and his Temptation in the Wilderness, after which we come to the call of the disciples and the Sermon on the Mount.


Aut Deus aut Mendax – Either the Lord God, or a Liar. A Consideration of the Divinity of Jesus as the “Make or Break” Dogma
I just viewed the First Episode of Catholicism with my Bible Study Students. The series, as many of you already know, is fabulous and I cannot recommend it enough. In the First 20 minutes Fr. Barron goes right to the heart of the faith and makes it clear that Jesus is God, He is the Lord.


The Way, as Seen by a Priest
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain is one of the top pilgrimage destinations in the world. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the burial place of St. James the Greater.

In Discovering the Camino de Santiago, Father Greg Markey takes the reader on this 500-mile pilgrimage route, which has been well worn since the ninth century. This Connecticut pastor hiked the route over 34 days in 2009.


Re-Tourist Yourself
When actor/director Emilio Estevez wrote the screenplay for “The Way,” there was never any question that his father, Martin Sheen, would play the starring role and Estevez himself would play his son. It’s a movie about a father and son played by a father and son.


When God Sends Messengers
With a heavy heart, I put down the telephone and sighed. I knew it was right that I, like the other sisters in my Carmelite community, set myself to the task now ahead of us. This was not the fi rst time death had visited us. No, and I knew that it would not be the last. This time, however, death was claiming the one who had worked alongside me for two years.


Real Confession
Confession is the best. I am absolutely convinced of this fact because the sacrament is one of the few Catholic Things that atheists, agnostics, and members of other religions will get – at worst – only mildly annoyed about and – at best and most usually – wishful, dreamy and sentimental about. Honestly, the number of atheists and agnostics I talk to who deny the remotest possibility of a relationship with God and then ask, in a somewhat timid, casual tone, “Can people who aren’t Catholic go to confession?” is both ridiculous and wonderful. (My answer is usually, “Yes, just become Catholic beforehand.”)


The Innocence of God
The other day, I got six kids dressed, brushed, fed, and dropped off at their three different schools; cleared the table, threw some laundry in, pulled something dinnerish out of the freezer, and settled down for some frantic writing before a dentist appointment.

I had gotten maybe four words down when my daughter toddled over with a toddler problem—something like, “Mama, I bited my banana and now my banana is bited and now I need a new banana.”


Dante’s Wings: The Limits of Faith and Reason in Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), describes in his Inferno a journey through Hell in which he passes by tragic characters, people who persist for all eternity in the same damnable state in which they were living. Each chose his or her own spot in hell based on the life each lived. The one character trait common to all of their personal tragedies is that they did not pursue God’s plan for their own salvation; rather, they pursued their own plans for their own damnation.


America’s Greatest Catholic Intellectuals
The Catholic Hall of Fame votes are in; here are the 10 greatest Catholic intellectuals in American history, according to today’s Catholic thought leaders.


God Needs You
Last month, my boyfriend’s grandfather died. The beauty of our Catholic faith never felt more exposed to me than with the passing of another believing soul from earth into eternity. I could not turn a corner in the grandfather’s house without seeing a crucifix. The family physically came together in fellowship- to eat meals, participate in the sacraments together, laugh, mourn and celebrate the now-deceased and beloved man’s full life.


Ten Practical Prayer Tips from the Carmelite Sisters
Dear Sister,
Is there a best time to pray, given all the activities each day holds for me – working at my job and caring for and being with my family makes a very full day? Also, I’m not fully awake first thing in the morning and already mighty tired by the time I lay my head on the pillow. I thought I would “Ask a Carmelite Sister” for her input on how I can find some time to pray.


Light and Bread: A Sapiential Reading of Two “I Am” Statements in the Gospel of John
The most powerful moments in the Gospel of John occur when Jesus takes the sacred name of God—“I AM”—as his own. In particular, Christ seeks to explain his being by creating a mosaic of images in the seven “I am” statements. In these, Jesus is the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life; and the true vine. Each statement peels back the veil that shielded mankind’s eyes from the face of God, seeking to express a new way of encountering God, not on the mountain or in the pillar of fire, but in the flesh of the incarnate Christ.


Halloween In Our Catholic Home
Somewhere between the occult and harvest parties lies what Halloween could and should be.

I used to think that I had to keep all ghosts, witches, and monsters out of Halloween, no matter how cutesy. I don’t want to foster in my children an interest in the occult and I thought that keeping those things (things I loved before I had kids) out of our home was the best way to do it. Scary jack-o-lanterns and anything that was too creepy had to go. But then I realized that I was being unrealistic; my kids are going to see those images anyways and I so I needed to develop a plan for us to be in the world but not of it.


Father McGivney and the Knights of Columbus
Anti-Catholicism was essentially a staple of life in the state of Connecticut, where freedom of religion was only officially legislated in 1818. In newspapers of the time, Catholics were told: “Until the light of Protestantism shone in the world there was no religious freedom. Popery, with its iron heel, treads out the life of religious liberty as fast as it is born.” America was a Protestant nation, and the central image they invoked was that of the Mayflower.


As the Devil Turns Round on Us
Readers will recall that, for some time over the past few years, there were discussions in the Catholic blogosphere about the dangers of consequentialism and the extremely popular theory that, when things are really scary, you can indeed do evil that good may come of it. Such moral corner-cutting was often justified by the charge that those who opposed, say, the Bush/Cheney torture of prisoners or the denial of basic human rights to alleged enemy combatants were “soft on terror” and (illogically) somehow not prolife.


What Happened at Fatima?
Richard Dawkins loves to make fun of miracles, and one of the favorite objects of his mockery is the miracle of the sun at Fatima. He snorts in derision, (and I paraphrase) “Obviously the sun did not dance and plunge to the earth. We know the sun is billions of times bigger than the earth. If the sun plunged to the earth there would be no earth. Clearly there was no miracle of the sun at Fatima…”

On the Inadequacy of the World As Advertised
One of the implicit messages in the advertisements we see is, in effect, “You are not adequate, you are not pretty enough, thin enough, healthy enough, popular enough, rich enough.” Further, “The world is a threatening and difficult place and you are not up to the task.” And then comes the pitch, “Buy our product and you’ll make it, you’ll measure up and solve life’s challenges. You won’t be so pathetic and ill equipped.” So the basic recipe is: incite fear and push the product as a solution.


A Conversation You Won’t Want to Miss! Former Britney Spears Backup Singer Saves Baby From Abortion
I’ve been putting off getting my hair done for a while because it’s hard for me to rationalize spending the money AND spending 2 hours being still. (I know, first world problem!) ☺ But, alas, my roots were quite blond so I scheduled an appointment for today. I’ve been battling the blues for a few days and would probably have stayed in bed had it not been for the appointment.

I walked in and took a seat while I waited for my stylist to come get me. I can’t even make up what happened next.

The Holy Chalice of Valencia: Is it the Holy Grail?
The Holy Chalice of Valencia is the alleged chalice used by the first 22 popes until Sixtus II who then gave it to St Laurence for safe keeping. After the martyrdom of Laurence, the chalice was taken to Spanish for safe keeping, The chalice is authenticated by a certificate said to date from AD 262. The physical properties of the Holy Chalice are described and it is stated the vessel had been used to celebrate Mass by the early Popes from Saint Peter until Pope Saint Sixtus II.



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