Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectio Divina: Matthew 22:15-21
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."
“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”
Why would the Pharisees want to entrap Jesus? Was he a threat to them in any way? Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, which was blasphemy in the eyes of the Pharisees. He also challenged what they thought to be sacred traditions, like the tradition to not work on the Sabbath.
Is there anyone in your life who you think is trying to entrap you? What does Jesus say about our enemies? Meditate on what it means to love them.
The Pharisees called Jesus “Teacher”
Jesus was not like other religious leaders the Pharisees knew or knew about. He defied the leaders of the day to the point where his enemies believed the authorities could get the best of him if they simply set him up. Jesus, however, not swayed by human wisdom, would not be fooled. His ways may have seemed foolish to the religious leaders of the day, but Jesus taught “the way of God” and not that of men. Meditate on what St. Paul meant when he wrote “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Jesus knew the Pharisees were trying to corner him. If he said not to pay the tax, he would defy Caesar. If he said Jews should pay the tax, he would defy the Jews who sought freedom from Roman oppression. In his response, Jesus does not seek to defend himself with a witty answer to the Pharisees. Nor does he seek to evade the wrath of either the Romans or the Jews. Rather, “knowing their malice”, he brought the hypocrisy of the Pharisees to their attention. Jesus points out that, in their quarrels regarding whether or not the Jews should pay the census tax, the Pharisees have forgotten about what is due to God. Meditate on what we owe to God.
The Pharisees called Jesus “a truthful man.”
When you are faced with contention from your enemies, do you try to defend yourself or is your main interest in the truth? Think of the last time your beliefs or convictions were challenged. What did you do? What should you have done?
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
With these words, Jesus demonstrates the freedom that comes with putting God first. The concerns of the world do not constrain you when you put God above all other things in your life. Think of a time when you put money, or something else worldly, before your love of God. Are you worried about your finances? Do you fear the authority of men to the point where you put such authority before God’s authority in your life?
Jesus is the truth. The Pharisees rightly say to him, “You teach the ways of God in accordance with the truth … and are not concerned about anyone’s opinion.” While we burden ourselves with the worries of the world, Jesus teaches us that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Meditate on what it means for the truth to be a person, Jesus Christ, and how that truth can bring freedom to your life.
The Jews believed the Messiah would come to free them from Roman oppression. They thought the Messiah would lead a military conquest over the Roman legions. Jesus taught a different way. He taught that freedom comes from within when you align your life with the truth. Meditate on the words, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).
The words, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” have been used as a political stance for Christians. It has served as the basis for separation of Church and state, and the principle of subsidiarity, which teaches that small communities should be left to govern themselves if they can. The Jews would have loved to see these freedoms granted to their small outpost of the Roman Empire, but it would never come to pass. Israel would not be granted the sovereignty of nationhood until after World War II. Clearly Jesus’ idea of freedom is not based on political interpretations of his words. Meditate on what kind of freedom Jesus is really talking about here and elsewhere in the Gospels.
We hear the psalmist declare in this Sunday’s psalm:
“Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns;
He will judge the peoples with equity’” (Psalm 96:10).
True freedom and equity are granted to those who put the Lord first and let him reign in their hearts and in their lives.
You said through your prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God beside me.” Thank you for showing me what matters most: my relationship with you. By putting you first in my life, you relieve me of the worries of the world, what others can do to me, what power they may have over me. When I believe in you, you give me the assurance that you work all things out for good. Increase my faith in you so that I can live in freedom, free from the worries of what man can do to me.
Our Father ...
What is God saying to you now? Is he calling you to deeper conversion, deeper trust in him? Is he telling you to let go of your concern for money? Is there a person in your life who is trying to entrap you? God may be calling you to give that fear and anger to him. Has someone hurt you in the past and are you holding onto that pain? God may be calling you to forgive so you may live in the freedom of the truth. Do you feel oppressed by someone or something in your life? Take comfort in the Lord, and know that he provides for all who love him.
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