Reflections on the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 18, 2020

Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - October 18, 2020

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today, on this Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year, we hear about Pharisees and Herodians trying to trap Jesus by twisting his words about the legality of paying tax to Caesar. Jesus not only avoids the trap but also redirects our attention to the duty and faithfulness that we owe to God as well as to Caesar.

There is no opposition between what is belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Earthly kingdoms are not outside the bounds of God’s kingdom, and everything belongs to God. In today’s First Reading, the prophet Isaiah reminds Cyrus, the Persian king, that he is anointed and chosen by God for the sake of God’s chosen people. Even though he does not know God, Cyrus is the agent of God and the instrument by which God delivers Israel and brings those exiled in Babylon back to Jerusalem. Isaiah drives the point home by noting that, as significant as Cyrus is as God’s instrument, only the Lord is God, and there is no other. We respond with Responsorial Psalm 96 as it reinforces Isaiah’s message by inviting everyone to praise the Lord: “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due to his name… The Lord is king, he governs the peoples with equity.”

In the Gospel, then, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians draws them – and us – to a higher level of conversation and consideration of the image and inscription on the coin. If both the image and the inscription were Caesar’s, where do we see the image of God? First of all, we see the image of God in Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Next, Jesus’ question about the image on the coin should remind every disciple of Christ that we are all created in the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). If the coin bearing Caesar’s image belongs to Caesar, then we who bear the image of God belong to God and need to give to God what is God’s.

Jesus encourages us today to look beyond the simple politics and legalities represented by Caesar’s coin and to appreciate the ways that we are called to embrace the faith that sees the hand of God in all things. All of us bear the image of the living God. Our highest obligation in life is to give ourselves back to our Creator.

Made in the image of God, who is Christ, what steps will we take today and during the coming week to allow the image of Christ to grow in ourselves? How will we support those around us to do the same? We have received so much by way of the gifts of life and salvation. We want to make every effort to “repay” those gifts – by living lives that point to the fact that we indeed belong to God and by growing in appreciation of the holy and eternal value we possess in Christ.

Especially on World Mission Sunday, we want to recognize and respond to the ways that God anoints and calls us to be His instruments for the spread of the Gospel. Whatever our vocation is, we always want to be bearers of God’s image to those around us.