29 Sunday A

1.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

a.     Secular Messiahs

Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary-General of the UN. When he died in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961 at the age of 66, the world lost a great servant of peace. He was a rare person for whom public service was not simply a career or means of achieving power, but a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God. He said: “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself and in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” –Gandhi is another example of a deeply religious man who involved himself in politics. He said: “I am in politics because I cannot separate life from belief. Because I believe in God I have to enter politics. Politics is my service to God.” Nelson Mandela is yet another example of how God uses all kinds of people, not necessarily religious, to lead people to God. Mandela tells us how, when he began to get interested in politics, a friend tried to warn him off saying, “Politics brings out the worst in people. It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.” Fortunately, for South Africa and the world, Mandela ignored his advice.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’ 

In today’s gospel the Pharisees bring the issue of paying taxes to the Romans for Jesus’ opinion on the matter. “Is it permissible to pay taxes or not?” The overt question is whether it is proper to pay taxes to the government, but there is a hidden agenda that Jesus is well aware of. Whichever way Jesus answered the question would trap him. If he said taxes had to be paid to Rome the people would be against him and if he said the opposite he would be seen as fomenting rebellion against the authorities. Jesus completely side steps the issue by asking for a coin with which the taxes were to be paid. This coin bore the image of Caesar and an inscription proclaiming his authority. Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is not entering into a discussion of the rights of the state and the rights of religion; but on the occasion of the question he proposes a deeper truth. What matters more to Jesus than being under Caesar’s rule and paying taxes, is belonging to God’s kingdom. Jesus is reminding his listeners of a deeper issue, that of being people of God. If they belong to God then they have to give God his due. God has to be the most important priority in their lives. What they owe to God is far more important than what they owe to anyone else. It is easy to remember what we owe to our fellow men but we can forget what we owe to God. The ideal Christian is one who fulfils his duty both to his fellowmen and to God. Only when there is a clash of interests do we have to remind ourselves that God always comes first. Besides God, Christians have a duty towards their fellow men. Christians should not shirk public office but see it as an opportunity to serve their fellowmen. 

b.     I love my country but there is a higher authority, God!

Franz Jaggerstatter was born in Austria and was brought up a Catholic. He was an ordinary, unremarkable young man, however at some stage he suddenly matured. He became very responsible and began to take religion seriously. By this time the Second World War was raging. At thirty-six he was called up to serve Hitler’s army. He refused to join up. “I cannot join because I believe that this war is not a just war. Therefore it would be wrong for me to join up. It would be against my conscience.” He said. “But where’s your loyalty to your people, to your country, to your flag?” his friends protested. “Franz replied, “I love my people and I love my country. But there’s a higher law–God’s law. And God’s law tells me that this war is wrong.” It wasn’t that he wanted to die. He had a lot to live for -his family and friends. He was arrested and put into prison. Then further efforts were made to get him to change his mind. Even his wife begged him to reconsider his decision. But all to no avail. Franz was beheaded on August 9, 1943. He felt he was obeying the words of Christ: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy day Liturgies’ 

It is hoped that our double citizenship of being citizens of two worlds, the material and spiritual, never clash. If they ever do, the Christian must resolve the conflict as St. Thomas More, the martyr did. King Henry VIII was validly married to Catherine of Aragon. He appealed to Rome to annul the marriage so he could marry Ann. Rome refused. Henry cut off allegiance to the Pope and declared himself ‘The only supreme head of the Church of England.’ He ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agreed he acted rightly. Many signed but Thomas More his friend and Lord Chancellor refused. He was put in prison for 15 months and finally executed. His last words were “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”


c.     Doing your Duty!!

We all laugh at the reputed story of Pat Murray at the Battle of Trafalgar, whose version of the Battle was as follows: “Lord Nelson came on deck and said ‘Is Pat Murray on board?’ And I said ‘Here I am, me Lord.’ Then said his lordship, ‘Let the battle proceed.’ And yet, while this was written for a joke, there is more to it than we are apt to think. For had it not been for the Pat Murrays, or John Joneses or Tom Smiths and others who were on hand doing their duty, there would have been no victories for the Nelsons, Wellingtons, Napoleons or Grants, who now live in history as great commanders.

A.W. Graham in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’ 

d.     Spiritual Foundations

The Great Wall of China was a gigantic structure, costing immense expenditure and labour, and when finished it seemed a superb way to gain security; but within a few years of its building it was breached three times by the enemy. Only note, it was breached, not by breaking down the wall but by bribing the gate-keepers. It was the human element that failed; what collapsed was character, proving insufficient the task to make the great structure men had built really work. A like fate awaits all those who, absorbed in political tasks, forget the spiritual foundation.

Anthony P. Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

e.     What will you give me?

There was once a prince and his family. When they were brought before him, King Cyrus asked the captured prince: “What will you give me if I release you?” “Half of my wealth.” “And if I release your children?” “Everything I possess.” “And If I release your wife?” “Your majesty, I will give you myself.” Cyrus was so greatly moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home the prince said to his wife, “Wasn’t Cyrus a handsome man!” With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, “I didn’t notice. I could keep my eyes only on you my husband–the one who was willing to give himself for me.” (John Pichapilly in ‘The Table of the Word’) 

f.      Give back to God...

Theologian Jon Sobrino published a book “Spirituality of Liberation: Towards Political Holiness.” A political holiness is what the church badly needs. I sense that we have too much of ‘Church Politics’ and too little of a ‘political Church.’ There’s politicking present in demands for ecclesiastical appointments, but hardly any interest in burning issues facing society and the Church. The current issue of granting concessions to Dalit-Christians (former untouchables) in India is significant. Is this a political or a religious question? I frame the question differently: “Is there anything which is not political? Or anything which is not religious?” Evidently, everything belongs to God. Let us give back to God even what belongs to Caesar!

Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds’ 

2.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil: 

a.     “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Perhaps we can illustrate all this with one case, that of St. Thomas More, the English martyr, Robert Bolt dramatized More’s conflict – regarding what is Caesar’s and what is God’s –  in the drama A Man for All Seasons. Recall the story. King Henry VIII of England is validly married. He appeals to Rome to annual the marriage. But there is no honest basis for annulment. Rome refuses. Henry takes matters into his own hands, declares himself Head of the Church in England and remarries. He then orders his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree he acted rightly in the matter. Many of More’s friends sign, but More refuses. Henry demands that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state. More refuses. He had two obligations, one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, More had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship. We are citizens of the world and citizens of Heaven. We have an allegiance and an obligation to each. We hope the obligations will never clash. But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

b.     Caesar and God:

In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, the newly-elected President of the United States, made the famous statement: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.  My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.  With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking God’s blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  If we personalized Kennedy’s statement it would read, “Don’t ask, ‘What can my country do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for my country?’”  And add, “Don’t ask, ‘What can God do for me?’  Instead ask, ‘What can I do for God?’”  Today’s Gospel lesson gives the correct answer.

c.     Honesty and Trigonometry:  

Dr. Madison Sarratt taught Mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years.  Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class, “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty.  I hope you will pass them both, fulfilling your obligations to your teacher and to your God.  If you fail, fail for trigonometry.  There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are not many   people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty the debt we owe to God.” This piece if advice sounds like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God." 

4.  From


a.     A little lad with a quarter

A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?"

The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees are not being honest. They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don't want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus.

The Pharisees were so angry it blinded them. Think for a moment about the ironies here: We know, because we live on this side of the resurrection, that Jesus was God. They thought he was demonic, an agent of Satan. We know that Jesus is the King of kings. They thought he wanted to be the King of Israel. We know that he was the Son of God. They thought he was simply Joseph and Mary's son. We know that Jesus has influenced the world for 2000 years. They thought his influence would end at the cross.
It's a fascinating story. We look at the Pharisees and we shake our heads... 

 You only get one chance to make a first impression. First impressions form lasting images. The first words and first actions we present to another person resound and resonate throughout the duration of that relationship.  

It is not that we are intentionally standoffish and skittish when presented with a new face. It is more about the unconscious gurgling up of the instinctual "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" response all of us possess. Whether we experience a "first impression" as engaging or annoying, easy-going or energetic, kind-hearted or kind of weird, we default to a "fight-flight-freeze-fawn" mode. We decide whether this encounter is something we choose to face, outface, redface, or, whether we suddenly feel the call of a cup of coffee from across the room. 

Things like books as well as people make "first impressions" too. The "first impression" made by the New Testament is, frankly, not all that great. Understandably the gospels come first, and the first gospel we read is Matthew. The first seventeen verses of his opening chapter, his "first impression," is an endless list of everlasting "begats." Matthew had good theological reasons for opening with a genealogy, but for most of us it is a bit like being forced to watch a video of someone else's family reunion, or walking into a room where everyone is hugging and kissing and you know no-one.   

But if the New Testament were arranged chronologically, the first "book," the first written communication, would be Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, dated around 45 CE. Can you imagine what a different New Testament it would be if the books were in their chronological order of being written, rather than the biographical account of Jesus' life? 

First Thessalonians is the "first impression" of the written testimony of the apostle Paul, whose writings predate those of the gospels... 

b.     We Are Citizens of This World 

In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, "Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right."

It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ's disciples.

Jerry L. Schmalenberger, When Christians Quarrel, CSS Publishing Co., Inc.

c.     Only One Top Priority 

I have heard it argued from both pulpit and pew that Jesus' words "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's" mean that a Christian is duty-bound to love America, right or wrong. I'm sorry, but I cannot agree with that. One Christian writer has said, "The greatest service Christians can render to their country is to become actively concerned about the destiny of the church."

I have also heard it argued that "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" implies a strict separation of church and state, that Jesus is dividing life into two separate and distinct parts - a spiritual part and a secular, or worldly, part. Dedicated and committed Christians have been arguing for this separation for centuries, and we probably won't settle the issue once and for all today. Their argument has been that with these words Jesus is telling us to obey God in the spiritual realm and to obey the government in everything else. Now, that's a nice, neat little division, and it solves many difficult problems. Politics is politics and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet. Let the church take care of its own business and keep their noses out of social and political issues. That would be fine if it worked. You and I both know that it doesn't. Yes, there are obligations we have to the governing authorities, such as paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and obeying civil laws. But as followers of Jesus Christ, our ultimate obligation is to "seek first the kingdom of God," and all other obligations have to have a lower priority. There can only be one top priority.

Johnny Dean, Another Tricky Question

d.     Torn Apart by Legions of Loyalties 

No one seriously denies that we all have legions of loyalties. Sometimes there are too many for our own good. I remember watching a film a few years ago in which a scene opened to show two puppeteers arguing over who would control the strings tied to a marionette on the stage below them. As they argued, one tried to wrest the strings from the other. The result was predictable. The puppet was pulled and thrown this way and that across the stage, as first one puppeteer and then the other pulled the string to an arm or leg, hand or foot.

Our many loyalties and commitments can do the same to us. We may feel that the strings of power and persuasion tied to us need only be tugged a bit, and then we have to move as they direct. The company we work for, the government we live under, the family we belong to, the possessions we own (more so, the one's we're still paying for) - all these things exercise varying degrees of control over our lives. To a large extent they determine how we spend our time, our money, our energy, our being. It isn't rare at all these days for people to be pulled in so many different directions that they jump and jerk across the stage of life, often feeling helplessly out of control.

Our problem is that there are too many Caesars before which we stand accountable. It's impossible to please them all. Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's is more than some folk feel they can handle.

D. Wayne Burkette, Life in Heaven's Kingdom, CSS Publishing Company

e.     What We the People Demand 

President James Garfield's words from 1877 still ring true. "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature ... if the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." 

Stephen M. Crotts / George L. Murphy / Stan Purdum, Sermons for Sundays: After Pentecost (Last Third): Rendering to God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

f.      Committing to Christ 

Tony Campolo, the Philadelphia sociologist, found himself seated beside the Pennsylvania governor at a state prayer breakfast. In the course of conversation the governor said that he was sympathetic toward Christianity but not personally committed. Campolo asked, "Why not?" The governor replied, "Well, to tell you the truth, no one ever invited me to commit." Campolo said, "I'm inviting you." within five minutes that governor had committed his life to Christ.

We have good news that is essential to every human being; it's a matter of their eternal life or death. We may be the only conduits God has to certain persons. We must help him reach them.

Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons,

"I have held many things in my hand, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands that I still possess." 

Martin Luther

g.     Historical Background Information: Paying Caesar 

The poll tax mentioned in this passage was levied by the Romans against the Jews beginning in A.D. 6 when Judea became a Roman province. When imposed for the first time, it provoked the rebellion of Judas the Galilean recorded in Acts 5:37 and discussed in more detail below. The Herodians favored the tax, but the Zealots, Pharisees, and people resented it. The Pharisees and the Herodians, though common adversaries in New Testament times on the very issue of rendering obedience and taxes to the Roman Empire, found themselves in common alliance in this instance to trap Christ in His words, trying to impale him on the horns of a serious dilemma. Should the authority of Caesar be recognized and the poll tax be paid to him? If Christ were to have affirmed payment of the poll tax to Caesar, he would no doubt have pleased the Herodians but would have made Himself an even greater enemy of the Pharisees and an enemy of the people who shared popular resentment to the poll tax as an unlawful imposition by a heathen government. If, by contrast, Christ were to have denied that the poll tax be paid, he would have made Himself out to be an enemy of the state and possibly, subject Himself to the charge of sedition. 

David G. Hagopian, Render to All What Is Due Them: What Every Christian Needs to Know about Honoring Civil Authority and Paying Taxes, Part 2. Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 4, no. 4.

h.     It Depends On What Is Important to You 

Two friends were walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening. Suddenly, one of them said, "What an interesting place to hear a cricket." 

His friend said, "What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!"
"No, I'm sure of it," his friend said, "I heard a cricket."
"That's crazy," said his friend. 

The man, who thought he had heard a cricket, listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket. His friend was utterly amazed.

"That's incredible," said his friend. "You must have superhuman ears!"

"No," said the man who heard the cricket. "My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for."
"But that can't be!" said the friend. "I could never hear a cricket in this noise."
"Yes, it's true," came the reply. "It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

"See what I mean?" asked the man who heard the cricket. "It all depends on what's important to you."
In the end the Pharisees heard from Jesus what they were listening for. 

Keenan Kelsey, Making Choices
i.      False Dichotomies 

Let me ask you a few questions that I am sure you can answer:

 Did you put on shoes this morning, or did you come to church in a car?
Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or don't you like football?
Are you Lutheran, or do you live in America?
Will you obey God, or will you pay taxes to Caesar?

Welcome to the world of false dichotomies-thing that are wrongly set against each other, "either/or"s that really aren't. Can you wear shoes and come to church in a car? Can you eat cereal and enjoy football? Can you be Lutheran and live in America?...