The Gospel of this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Times, Year A (Matthew 22:15-21) is about how the Pharisees and the Sadducees, in spite of their long-lasting hatred for each other, came together to entrap Jesus, by posing to him a question about whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar or not; a question to which, if he answers yes, the Pharisees would condemn him for being a traitor to the Jewish Nation, and if he says No, the Sadducees would condemn him for leading a rebellion against Caesar. My friends, this story is not about then; it is about now, a story about how we deal with others when spite and hate engulf our souls.
In the story, these emissaries began their snare by being highly complementary of Jesus: “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” (vs. 16). How common it is for most spiteful projects to be covered with the most specious pretenses; hatred covered with deceit, just like Judas, who kissed, and betrayed, and like Joab, who kissed, and killed. Yet, in spite of their evil intent, they did, however, reveal the true character of Christ— one who stood firm on justice and fairness; did not suppress, pervert, or stretch the truth for favor or affection, hatred or goodwill, either out of a desire to please or out of fear to offend; something we should all emulate as Christians. Our present climate of political correctness has become a new avenue of masking social evils, where alternate truths are crafted, told, and accepted.
But amazingly, it was these same characteristics, for which they complimented Jesus, that they also wanted him killed. That is pretty telling. Life experiences continue to tell us that no matter how good or innocent we are, it is difficult to escape some people's hatred and ill will or the malice and strife of evil tongues. In this encounter, the plan was to make Jesus fall into a trap—make Himself an enemy of the Jewish multitude by saying to pay taxes to Caesar or to the Roman magistrates, by saying do not pay the toll taxes. Unfortunately, when evil is contrived, it is easy to make one an offender for a word, a word misplaced, mistaken, or misunderstood; a word, though innocently said, becomes perverted by strained innuendos. The truth is that the more there is an evil wit in the contrivance of sin, the more there is a wicked will in the commission of it. Setting traps for people to fall into is not a Christian way to live.
Fortunately, he discovered their plot. My friends, a temptation perceived is a temptation half conquered, for our greatest danger lies from snakes under the green grass. No wonder Scripture calls us to be vigilant. Our vigilance lies in being married to the word of God, devotions to our Blessed Mother, Eucharistic Adoration, prayers, and acts of charity. This is how we build a formidable dome against the tactics of Satan, as Scripture says, “Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, …in all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:12 -17)
Christ’s answer to their question took them unawares—“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Our consciences belong to God, for Scripture says, “My son, give me thy heart.” Caesar can get our purse, but God must have the innermost and uppermost place in our lives. So, if Caesar’s commands interfere with God’s commands, we must obey God rather than men. The question, then, is, Where do I stand? May the good Lord grant us the grace to submit to His truth and guidance, Amen!