‘Master, we know you are an honest man and teach the
way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid
of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you.’ If
ever there was a line that deserved the response, ‘flattery
will get you nowhere,’ then this certainly is it!
In reading the text, however, we should never forget Matthew’s heavy use of irony. Yes, they are plainly flattering Jesus in order to get his attention and they don’t actually believe a word they are saying. Yet to the believer all of these things they say are quite evidently true.
Matthew tells us clearly that the Pharisees were out to trap Jesus and there is one big clue in the text that proves that this must be so and it is the presence of the Herodians. They are members of the pro-Herod party and since Herod is only kept in power by the Romans they are going to be pro-Rome and therefore pro-taxes!
They are surely brought in to witness Jesus fall into the trap the Pharisees have set. They reckon that if Jesus says that there is no need to pay taxes to Caesar then the Herodians will report him to the Romans as defying their authority. This they think will be the easiest way to get rid of Jesus. Defying the tax was the cause of a whole series of small rebellions that the Romans had already put down swiftly with a few executions; Jesus would just be another victim.
On the other hand, if Jesus says that one should pay taxes to Caesar then he becomes suspect to the more ardent Jews. So they are quite pleased with themselves thinking that they have got him in a spiritual Catch 22!
The coin most in circulation at that time bore the head of the Emperor Tiberius and the words Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest. Whether by saying that taxes should be paid with this coin one was admitting to the truth of the inscription is an open question. But clearly these coins were tainted; they were the currency of an oppressor and clearly proclaimed the Emperor’s divinity.
The tax in question was a poll tax; the equivalent of one day’s wage and it had to be paid in Roman currency. This was a clever tactic by the Romans because it meant that their subject peoples had to trade with them to acquire the coins to pay the tax thus locking them into the Roman economy.
An interesting little point is that Jesus doesn’t have a Roman coin and so he has to ask for one. He has distanced himself from the currency and therefore also the tax. He asks, ‘Let me see the coin you pay the tax with.’ Immediately the Pharisees are wrong footed, by presenting him with the coin they acknowledge that rightly or wrongly they actually do pay the tax!
Each time the Pharisees try to box in Jesus he sidesteps the issue and turns the question back on them. In this way Jesus avoids controversy and gets to the far more important questions of life.
According to Jesus it is far less important whether you pay or don’t pay taxes to Caesar than whether you give to God what is his due. The taxes are a side issue, a pretext to the more important business of the Pharisees bid to get rid of Jesus, to assert their pre-eminence in matters of religion. They are concerned not with God’s plans but their own plans.
They live in a competitive world and are preoccupied with staying on top; religion and the scriptures are merely the means they use to hold on to their position. This reveals them to be oriented towards the things of this world rather than the things of heaven.
Jesus understands that there is a clear and important question here. And his approach is to go right to the heart of the matter and ask whether our eyes are set on the Kingdom. He understands that it is only if we get this most essential question right that we can begin to deal with any particular moral issue.
Every now and again a politician brings forward a bill in parliament which would legitimise euthanasia in this country. There is one in the House of Lords right now. So this is a current moral problem and one which we should think about deeply and form a clear and rational view in the light of the Gospel of Christ.
There is something beguiling about the arguments for euthanasia especially as it is so often presented to us as the avoidance of unnecessary suffering and exploiting our desire not to become a burden on others.
But there are some serious issues at stake here and we should be very clear about them. First, though, we ought to be aware where this pressure for euthanasia comes from and it is from those with a largely secular agenda. It is rare that anyone promoting euthanasia invokes God or any religious argument in justification. The utilitarian principle of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ which guides most of those with a secular agenda has little resemblance to Christianity.
The media presents euthanasia to us as being compassionate and merciful. They characterise the laws preventing assisted suicide as cruel and unjust. We need to be aware just how secular and cynically manipulative the media is in this country.
One of the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that life comes from God and is therefore sacred. It is God who gives life in the first place and it is he who in his wisdom decides when it is opportune to take us to himself. Our task is to value life and to see the spark of the divine in all that is human.
We Christians value the life of each and every human being no matter how handicapped or disabled. If the Gospel means anything at all it means that the poor and the lowly are brought to the top of the table in the Kingdom of God. And to this we ought to add the frail, the elderly and the dying.
One of the assumptions made by those who promote euthanasia is that suffering has no value. This again is not a Christian belief. We regard suffering as redemptive and indeed almost a necessary part of our life here on earth. In illness and pain we unite our sufferings with that of Christ and see it as our small offering for the salvation of the world.
This does not mean that we relish suffering or fail to do what we can to relieve it; neither do we do everything we can to prolong life unnecessarily. We try to follow the laws of nature caring for our elderly and ensuring that those coming to the end of their life are fed and nourished and kept as free as possible from pain.
But we do not believe that any one has the right to bring life to an end whether it be the patient or the doctor or some other well meaning individual. The message of Christ is that God is sovereign, that he is the Lord of Life and it is him to whom all are accountable. That is what the phrase from the Gospel today means ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but to God the things that are God’s.’
Our life is God’s and therefore we are not free to end it whenever we like. The idea that we might become a burden to our children is another cynical ploy put forward by those with a secular agenda. We surely would be a burden if our children did not love us and if they believed that there was no God nor an afterlife.
But the very opposite is true! Any child worth their salt desires to do everything they can to assist their parents in illness and frailty. We love our parents and we value them and we want to care for them and express our appreciation in their old age. If we think about our parents like this then why would our children think the very opposite?
This issue is going to continue to be the subject of a lot of discussion as time goes on. Let us be clear where we stand and what our reasons are.
I was talking to a priest a few days ago. He was called out to a hospital to give the last rites to an Italian who was on the point of dying. The family were extremely emotional and kept grabbing his hand and calling out to him loudly, ‘Giovanni! Don’t leave us alone! Giovanni! We need you! Stay with us!’ It turned out that he was 97 years old!
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 19, 2014
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A–October 19, 2014
Jesus’ enemies try to set a trap for Him. A coin buys Him freedom from it.
Gospel (Read Mt 22:15-21)
For the last several weeks, our Gospel readings have shown us that Jesus used parables to help the religious elites of Jerusalem hear a call to believe in Him as their Messiah. They fell on deaf ears. We find today that “the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.” They were unable to recognize themselves in the many stories Jesus told them. Instead, they sent “their disciples” to put a question to Him that they were sure would force Him into trouble.
29th Sunday: Forming Citizens
God often uses people with earthly power for His ends even though they may not realize it. Cyrus had earthly power. He was the king of Persia who invaded Babylon and brought an end to the Babylonian Empire in a matter of months. The ancient Hebrews had nothing but fond memories of Cyrus because it was Cyrus who ended their exile and sent them back to Judea. Cyrus may have been just solving the need to rebuild Palestine without having to do it himself while at the same time setting up a friendly buffer state. He did a similar thing with people from other lands who had been held captive in Babylon. He saw all these people as draining the resources of his new capital. Perhaps someday they would unite and cause a rebellion. It made political sense to release them back to their lands in the most friendly way, molding them into allies. Still, Cyrus did the will of God, even through he may not have realized it.
Your Spirit Finds Joy in Communion
God desired to nourish our spirit, so He gave it His Bread, the Eucharist, announced by Holy Scripture: “He will feed them with the Bread of life and understanding.”
Now, there are no greater joys on earth than the joys of the spirit. Contentment of heart is less lasting because it is based on feeling, and feeling is apt to be inconstant. True joy is of the spirit and consists in the quiet knowledge of the truth.
Let it Go
I grew up in a home where both my parents worked to make ends meet. There were years that my dad worked two jobs to help support our family. We had few extras, but we had what we needed. If I wanted spending money I worked a number of jobs to earn it. What our family did have in abundance was love, encouragement, and a focus on the importance of values. My parents always made time for my sister and me, and family dinner time was sacred. They were genuinely interested in what we were doing at school. As tired as my father was after work, he would play catch with me every evening and on weekends. My mother was our emotional bedrock and I always admired what a great team she and my father formed.
Humility in Prayer
I, perhaps like you, have to see folks I love and care about through some difficult periods in their lives. One neighbor and parishioner just lost her eight-year-old daughter to cancer. A number of parishioners are seeking work and praying daily for it, but no work offers seem to be forthcoming. Still others cry out for relief from any number of different crosses. I, too, have lots of things for which I pray and sometimes I get discouraged or even angry when God seems to say, “No,” or “Wait.”
Do Catholics Really Pray To Mary and the Saints in Heaven?
I overheard a conversation after a morning bible study at my parish about praying to Mary and the Saints. It went something like this (names changed)
“Thanks so much for inviting me, Beth. You have a wonderful group here. I have a question, though. I hope it doesn’t offend you, but being non-Catholic, I just don’t understand this praying to Mary. Do Catholics really do that?”
Beth smiled at Sarah and explained, “No, of course Catholics don’t pray TO Mary, we pray WITH Mary; asking her to intercede—or pray—for us.”