‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God’
Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year A
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ trap shows us that, while we cannot cut ourselves off from the affairs of the world, we should never compromise our beliefs and values. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
15 The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that 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. 17 Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ 18 But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? 19 Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, 20 and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ 21 ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
Other readings: Isaiah 45:1,4-6 Psalm 95 (96) 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5
In our reading of the Gospel of Matthew we continue to hear of incidents during the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem in the time leading up to his death and resurrection. There is an atmosphere of foreboding. There are plots to trap Jesus in order to bring charges against him. Jesus repeatedly reprimands the Jewish leaders for their unwillingness to listen to him.
The Pharisees attempt to ‘trap Jesus in what he said’. The issue is that of the rightness of paying taxes. Palestine was under the rule of the Roman empire. Was it right to pay taxes to this pagan power machine? The question is like those asked of politicians and church leaders today to try to get them to give simple answers to complex questions. Jesus throws the question back to the questioners. He knows that the intention is to catch him out and does not engage in any debate.
Jesus’ response is: ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.’ As Christians we cannot cut ourselves off from the affairs of the world, but we should never compromise our beliefs and values. Our decisions and our loyalties must be decided by what furthers the ‘common good’.
Today we begin to read from the earliest letter of St Paul in the New Testament, the first letter to the Thessalonians. Paul assures the community that he remembers them in his prayers. The unity of the church, made up of local communities, is built up above all through prayer. Paul goes on to praise the people of this community for their active faith, their works of love and their perseverance in hope. The impact of the good news on them has been dramatic. The Holy Spirit has transformed their lives.
Do I have the patience to reflect on complex questions so that my actions may be for the good of all?
Am I willing to listen to the teaching of Jesus, especially when my actions are challenged?
We pray that we may always show honesty and truth in our dealings with others.
We pray that our lives will be full of faith, hope and love.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy