29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2011

16 October 2011 

Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
1 Thessalonians 1.1-5
Matthew 22.15-21

One time I was driving a friend of mine to the airport. I jokingly asked him with which passport he was travelling on that journey. The fact was that his parents were of one nationality, he of another. As a result he had two passports. He held a passport of the country he was born in but he also had the passport of the country his parents came from. He had dual citizenship.

In today’s gospel the question of dual citizenship is raised. But it is a question which is set as a trap for Jesus. This posed a dilemma for Jesus. If he said it was unlawful to pay tax, those who asked the question would immediately report him to the Roman government officials for being anti-Roman and his arrest would surely follow. If he said that it was lawful to pay the tax, he would stand discredited in the eyes of many of the people. Not only did the people resent the tax as most people resent taxation; the Jews resented it more for religious reasons. For a Jew God was the only king; their nation was a theocracy meaning that they did not give their allegiance to any human king or ruler. To pay tax to an earthly king was to admit the validity of his kingship and thereby insult God. Therefore whichever answer Jesus gave, they assumed, would leave himself open to trouble.

The answer of Jesus certainly surprised them. Instead of laying down hard and fast rules and regulations which he rarely did, he lays down principles as was usually the case. Here he lays down a very great and important one. Every Christian has dual citizenship. He is a citizen of the country in which he happens to live. To it he owes many things, security, public services etc. In a welfare state the citizen owes still more to the state, education, medical services, unemployment and retirement benefits. This places him under a debt of obligation. So a Christian has a duty to be a responsible citizen. Failure to be a good citizen is failure in Christian duty. But a Christian is also a citizen of heaven and he is expected to live according to the commandments, the Law of God. If there is a clash or an opposition between the two, doing what we believe to be God’s will must prevail. Being against abortion would be an example.

There is an important lesson in today’s gospel.

Once a man went to visit his friend of school days. They hadn’t met for years but kept in contact by letter.  Now this man decided it would be good to meet up again. However, he wasn’t sure when he arrived at the street given in the address which house his friend now lived in. He decided to ask some children of about 11 years of age who were playing nearby. As soon as he saw one of them he knew he was the son of his friend. He told him later. ‘I knew he was your son as soon as I saw him since he is the image of you’. In the gospel when Jesus asks to see the coin the Pharisees and Herodians, who were out to trap him, paid the tax with Jesus asked them, whose head was on it, whose name. This was another way of saying ‘whose image is on the coin?’ Obviously it was that of the emperor Caesar. For us Christians it is not just an image stamped on a coin or something else external to us. We are told that we are created in the image and likeness of God. The image is stamped on our very being when we are created. This may have little effect for many people. It seems the image they live by is money, power etc rather than what is stamped on their very being.

So on this Sunday what image do we live out of?  Are we conscious enough of our image and likeness to God? Do we live our lives accordingly? Does our behaviour and lifestyle influence / inspire others to such an extent that it attracts them to follow Jesus because of us?

The world we live in is highly influenced by image. More and more there is a danger that we are an image conscious people. Some young people risk their lives due to anorexia or bulimia because the image presented is that of being very slim. Others will follow pop stars some of whom have died because of an overdose. With billions being spent yearly on advertising we can be seduced into living according to an image created by outsides agencies. The Good News today is that God is telling us that we are incredibly blessed in being citizens of heaven, having his image and called to be real missionaries.

“Lord Jesus, praise and thank you for creating us in your own image and likeness.  Help us not to forget this and live as true missionaries so that others may come to follow you too.  Amen.”

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA