Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (José Antonio Pagola)

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The poor are God’s

Behind Jesus’ back, the Pharisees reach an agreement to prepare a decisive trap for him.  They do not come themselves to meet him.  They send some of their disciples, along with some supporters of Herod Antipas.  Perhaps not missing in that group are some powerful collectors of taxes for Rome.

The trap is well thought out: “Is it lawful to pay census tax to Caesar or not?”  If he answers negatively, they will be able to accuse him of rebellion against Rome.  If he justifies the payment of tribute, he will end up discredited by the poor rural folks that are over-burdened with those taxes and whom he loves and defends with all his might.

Jesus’ answer has been summarized succinctly throughout the centuries in these terms: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  There are not many words of Jesus that have been cited as much as these. Nor are there many that have been distorted so much more and manipulated from the perspective of interests that are in so much opposition to the Prophet, the defender of the poor.

Jesus is not thinking of God and of Rome’s Caesar as two powers that can claim—each one of them, in their respective spheres—their rights over their subjects.  Like any faithful Jew, Jesus knows that “the earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who live there” (Psalm 24).  What could Caesar have that would not be God’s? Are the emperor’s subjects not sons and daughters of God?

Jesus bypasses the different opinions, within that society, that are before the Herodians, the Sadducees or the Pharisees on the question and meaning of paying taxes to Rome: if they carry around in their pockets “the coin that pays the census tax,” then they should perform those obligations.  But his life is not one of service to the Roman Empire, but rather it is one of opening paths to God’s kingdom and his justice.

That is why he reminds them of something that no one has questioned him about: “Repay to God what belongs to God.”  In other words, do not give to any Caesar what belongs only to God, namely, the lives of his sons and daughters.  As he has so many times repeated to his followers, the poor are God’s, the little ones are very dear to him, theirs is the kingdom of God.  No one should abuse them.

A person’s life, dignity or happiness must not be sacrificed to any power.  And surely today no power sacrifices more lives and causes more suffering, hunger and destruction than this “the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” that, according to Pope Francis, the powerful of the earth have managed to impose.  We cannot remain passive and indifferent, silencing the voice of our consciences in religious practices.

José Antonio Pagola

October 19, 2014
29 Ordinary Time (A)
Matthew 22, 15-21

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