OVERCOMING THE “CAESAR MENTALITY”HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Ownership mentality is perhaps one of the significant cables in the human structure. We all like to identify who owns what and how much. In business administration, ownership refers to the legitimate right of possession. In other words, it indicates that something belongs to a named individual or persons leveraging some proofs. For instance, the title of a car suggests the owner because it bears his or her name.

It is also important to note that ownership comes with responsibility and accountability. For instance, car ownership always comes with the expectation of responsible driving and handling of the car.

The Gospel Reading today (Matthew 22:15-21) gives us a narrative that has ownership as a significant factor. It started as a plot involving a joint team of the Pharisees (an extreme religious sect) and the Herodians (a radical secular group). The unfitting union of the polarized group was designed to entrap Jesus in speech.

Coming to our Lord, they started with a round of flattery about his truthfulness and ardent disregard of individuals’ opinions and ranks. After that, they asked him a close-ended question that requires either a “yes” or a “no” answer, and it reads, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

The plot was to make Jesus choose a “yes” and get the backlash of the Pharisees who would favor the temple tax above the census tax. Or to select a “no” and offend the Herodians who push for Caesar’s taxes due to the gains they make from them. Furthermore, they were not clear about the type of law whether religious or state law.

The answer our Lord Jesus gives, knowing their plan and even calling them hypocrites, could have shocked the joint taskforce. Getting the coin that pays the census tax, he asked, “whose image is this and whose inscription?” They mentioned Caesar, and he said, “then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.”

The reply was both unexpected and thought-provoking to them and us reading it after more than two thousand years. For many years now, most people, including Christians, have misread and misapplied those instructive words from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some people believe that our Lord was asking people to combine God’s worship with some involvement with other gods. But they seem to forget that God said that we should not worship any other god (Ex. 20:2-5) nor even mention their names (Ex. 23:13) because He does not entertain rivals (Ex. 34:14). You will learn a new meaning of this statement at the end of this reflection

Between Caesar and God

Though the narrative tells us that the Pharisees and the Herodians wanted to entrap Jesus in speech, the real contention is about the ownership of our lives, between Caesar and God. We shall examine this more intently.

Historically, Tiberius Caesar (42 B.C – 37 A.D), who was ruling at the time of the ministry of Jesus Christ, was a great terror over the entire Roman empire. Extreme torture, obscenity, immorality, and corruption marked his 23-year rule. At that time, the people earnestly cried out for a messiah in the political sense of liberation. The only difference between the devil and Tiberius at the time was that people could say no to the devil.

Beyond this historical fact, Caesar represents anything or anyone that opposes God directly or indirectly in our lives. Caesar describes whatever takes our attention from God or competes for our time and resources to the detriment of our relationship with God.

Our world breeds with the images and impressions of various kinds of Caesars not on coins, but in multiple aspects of life. In our day and age, we still have many political Caesars worse than Tiberius Caesar in their flagrant irresponsible leadership styles. There are also religious Caesars who, like the Pharisees in the Gospels, excel in pretentious and hypocritical religiosity.    

Dealing with the “Caesar Mentality”

We may not waste our time trying to examine the boundaries between what Caesar owns and what God owns because whatever belonged to Caesar is subject to God. The word of God tells us that the earth belongs to God and everything in it, the world, and the people who live in it (Psalm 24:1).

There would be a need for us to discard all the ravaging effects of Caesar’s mentality in our lives moving forward. The Caesar mentality tells us that what matters in life is material ownership, power, and money. The Caesar mentality tells us that God should keep to His side and allow us to live our lives the way we want. The Caesar mentality is about immodesty, immorality, corruption, and oppression. The Caesar mentality is a way that seems right but leads to destruction (Proverbs 14:12)

 The best way to deal with the Caesar mentality that holds many people today is to submit to God (James 4:7). While you are still an earthly citizen, be the best you can for the human society but do not allow it’s strung to rob you of your heavenly citizenship (Phil.3:20). The world as you see it is passing away with all attendant Caesars’, but those with God abide forever (1 John 2:17).

Now, this is what our Lord meant; the coin belongs to Caesar, in other words, to the world, but you belong to God, so give to God what belongs to God, and that is you! God bless you and have a wonderful weekend and a beautiful week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie.

                                                 

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