Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost – The Legality of the Tribute to Caesar

GOSPEL. Matt. xxii. 15-21. At that time the Pharisees going, consulted among themselves how to ensnare Jesus in his speech. And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou dost not regard the person of men: tell us therefore what dost thou think. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute. And they offered him a penny. And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and inscription is this? They say to him: Caesar’s. Then he saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

 The Legality of the Tribute to Caesar

Though the Pharisees often heard the instructions of Our Lord, they never drew any benefit from them. On this day they came to Our Lord, and proposed this question to Him, “Tell us, what dost Thou think. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” In this way, instead of trying to learn something of benefit to their souls, they became more blind. They were full of hatred of Our Lord, and full of jealousy because the people considered Him a prophet, and their intention was to destroy the respect which the multitude had for Him. Here was a question which they thought would certainly lead Our Lord into their meshes. “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?” The Jews hated the Roman dominion over them; they were a downtrodden race, and were obliged to furnish a throne and money for the Roman governor, while their religion was in confusion; and sometimes two high-priests were contending for the chief office. So the Pharisees said to themselves, “If this man consents to pay tribute to Caesar he will be hated by the people; and if on the contrary he disapproves of it, the government will have a case against Him for inciting the people to resist lawful authority.”  Jesus confounded the Pharisees by His divine wisdom. “Why do you tempt Me, ye hypocrites?” He asked. You have a very bad reason for this question—you are not honest. Our Lord was affable and kind to the greatest sinners who came to Him in the sincerity of their hearts; but with these double-faced Pharisees He had no patience. He called them vipers, impostors, whitened sepulchres, fair without, but most loathsome within. Does not Our Lord teach us here the hatefulness of the vice of hypocrisy, and how He detested it?

 My dear young friends, there are hypocrites among Christians, among our youth. Many young people wish to appear like angels in the eyes of their superiors; before their parents they are careful not to say a bad word, while with their companions they do and say most scandalous things. They hide their sins so carefully that no one suspects them of any wickedness: even in the confessional they do not make known their great sins, and deceive the priest, the minister of God. There are hypocrites everywhere; in the sanctuary, in the choir, in sodalities, in the church, and at the sacraments. Never pretend to a devotion that you have not it is disgusting. Be not servers of the eye of man, but serve God in all sincerity. Men may praise you for your piety, honesty, and truthfulness, but God sees deep into the heart; you do not deceive God. You may gain some temporal advantages by deceiving men, but God’s time for punishment will come, and then to your shame, your hypocrisy will be made manifest to the world. We read in Job that, “dissemblers and crafty men provoke the wrath of God.”

“Show me the coin of the tribute,” said Our Lord. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked. They answered, “Caesar’s.” Then He said, “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  The Pharisees were struck with the wisdom of the reply, and must have been covered with shame before the assembled multitude. St. Bonaventure asserts that this coin represents the soul of man, impressed with the image of God. A precious thing, of great value, is the soul in the eyes of God, and it derives its value from the blood of Christ. Our soul, my dear young friends, when gifted with the grace of the Redeemer is a most beautiful object; it is an angel hidden in a body of flesh, a beautiful spirit, radiant with thought and understanding. A soul in mortal sin has impressed on it the image of the devil.  “What has become of me?” St. Augustine asks. “My soul, whither have your sins led you?”  That bright image of God which was on you is there no longer; all is changed. “How has the gold changed its color!” Bewail your condition, my dear young people, if you should find yourselves in a state of sin. St. Jerome says, most lamentingly, “This I bewail, that you do not feel that you are dead; this I bewail, that you do not sorrow for yourselves.”

Yes, young people who are in sin ought to weep continually; at night instead of closing their eyes in sleep, they ought to keep them open to shed tears; they ought not be able to eat, play or study, so great should be their concern. But do they weep? Oh no! these miserable blind beings enjoy themselves, and never stop to think that God hates them. Oh, raise your eyes to the crucified Saviour, see His thorn-crowned head has He not sacrificed it for your soul? Those blood stained eyes, those colorless lips, those hands pierced with nails, those feet cruelly wounded and that side opened by a lance did He not sacrifice all for our salvation? Are you going to allow His sacred Passion to be wasted so far as you are concerned? Jesus has purchased you with His blood, and you are His if you remain faithful to Him. “Take great care of your souls,” and Jesus will be satisfied with His purchase and will not consider His Passion too great a price for your soul.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.” Let us, for a moment, think of this. What do we owe God, that we must give Him? To God we owe honor and glory. Do we give this glory to God? Do we not give honor rather to men, to those especially who hold positions of dignity. When you enter the magnificent palace of the millionaire, how well-dressed you are, what politeness you assume, so that people may consider you well-bred; you tiptoe up the hall and in a humble whisper ask the servant to take in your card, to see whether you may be admitted; should you have the happiness of an audience, you hardly speak aloud and you put your demands in the most honeyed words. If such is our respect for men, what is not due to almighty God from a human being? Give to God, therefore, a little of the respect which you show to creatures.

God does not wish for a false respect. He wishes you to be free, gracious, and spontaneous in your worship of Him; to assume a pious attitude in church because you are watched is not a worship of God; to say your prayers night and morning for form’s sake, or because your parents insist on it, is hardly to be considered meritorious; for it is an unwilling prayer. Does God consider these acts worthy of Him when they are forced from you? He will not look at them with pleasure. He will say to you as He said to the Jews of old, “You celebrate great feasts, and hold certain days solemn, but they are not My feasts, they are yours, because you want them for your own purposes and not for My glory; they excite My indignation but not My mercy toward you.” This forced devotion is similar to the mock adoration which the Jews and soldiers offered Our Lord in the hall of Pilate’s palace, when they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and made genuflections before Him; and at the cross, when the Jews cried out: “Let Him now come down from the cross and we will believe Him.”  God looks at the heart. He pays little attention to our exterior actions; a good, strong, fervent, cordial intention is as good in the eye of God as is the execution of the noblest human action. Give then to God the honor and glory that are due to Him; there is no need to force the youth who is in earnest to honor God in church, or when he hears Mass or goes to the sacraments; he does it of his own free will and with the greatest devotion. Yes, my dear young people, give to God that honor, freely, not through routine or custom. With a great heart, give glory to God. Serve Him with a great heart, joyfully and with alacrity, and then you can say with truth that you have given to God the things that are God’s.

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