Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Ownership refers to the act or state of having a legal right of possession over a certain thing, idea, or condition. To demonstrate that you own anything, the law often requires you to provide proof in documents like receipts, invoices, titles, and deeds.
There is also what is known as psychological ownership, which refers to the feeling that one has the right of possession over someone or something, even when it is not the case. We see this in friendship circles where some people feel they own others and can control their lives.
Come to think of this! Someone works hard and becomes successful in life with many properties and money. But then, death comes unexpectedly, and the person dies, leaving everything behind. Was the person really the owner of those properties and money?
The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah (45:1,4-6) reveals an unusual character of God, at least from the understanding of an average Christian. The prophet’s oracle calls Cyrus a pagan king, an anointed one of God who is exceedingly helped to subdue nations though he does not know God.
We learn here that God can use anyone to advance His programs. Concerning King Cyrus, his reign was designed to favor the people of God at a most needful moment. Bible history tells us that Cyrus allowed the Jewish people to return to their land after seventy years in exile. He also started the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 22:15-21) tells us about the plot of a joint team of Pharisees and Herodians (two opposing and extreme groups) to entrap Jesus in speech. They came up with a complicated question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
The complication in the question has a lot to do with the two groups who came together to set the trap. The Pharisees opposed the census tax, while the Herodians supported it. So, a direct yes or no answer would enrage either side.
However, Jesus gave the most amazing answer after verifying the image and inscription of Caesar on the coin. He said: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.”
Caesar’s Thing and God’s Thing
The response our Lord Jesus gave not only surprised and silenced the joint team of Pharisees, but it has also been a confusing statement for many people down the centuries apart from being one of the most popular bible passages even among non-Christians.
Some people have misread the statement to assume that our Lord Jesus Christ was insinuating that you can do whatever you want elsewhere insofar as you come back to fulfill your religious obligations to God. In other words, you can serve both God and other gods. But that is not the case.
Jesus was saying that each person should fulfill their civic duties. In other words, obedience to the civil authorities is important on the one hand. On the other hand, one should not forget to fulfill one’s spiritual obligations.
St. Paul balances these when he says: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Romans 13:1). And in another place, he says: “Live in the spirit and do not satisfy the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
To Whom Do You Belong?
Caesar Tiberius, the emperor of the great Roman empire during the ministry of Jesus, welded uncommon power worldwide and was feared. Disobedience to Caesar then attracted a severe sentence. Recall how the people used the name of Caesar to compel Pontius Pilate to condemn Jesus to death when he tried to set him free (John 19:12).
Therefore, Caesar represented a belief system that controlled the people’s lives in opposition to the almighty God. However, even if you didn’t like Ceasar, you were still subject to his laws and demands, like the taxes.
From the perspective of our reflection, Caesar represents the world as a system that opposes the agenda of God. Recall that our Lord Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world (John 15:19). Furthermore, John the apostle (1 John 2:15-17) instructed:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world, for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride in life—comes not from the Father but from the world.
We often claim we belong to God, but our actions show otherwise. Many people are giving Caesar what belongs to God. This happens, for instance, when we have time for everything but God, when we talk to everyone in our contact but God, and When we give so much to impress people but give little or nothing to God because we don’t see him applaud us for giving.
Moving Forward: Your Soul Belongs to God
Recall that our Lord Jesus inspected the coin for the census tax and saw that the image and inscription belonged to Caesar. In like manner, when the Lord examines our souls, which should be the currency for the kingdom of heaven, he should be able to find his image and inscription boldly represented.
It is not too late for you to reposition your soul to radiate the image and inscription of the Lord. In the Second Reading (1 Thess. 1:1-5b), St. Paul gives us three helpful platforms that would assist us in providing fitting attention to God: the work of faith, the labor of love, and endurance in hope.
Are you giving to God what belongs to God? What about your soul? Think about it!
God bless you!