Saturday, October 18, 2008

A commentary for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time by Sr. Mary Luke Jone, OSB

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

Recently, I read a quote from Billy Graham who said, “Give me 30 minutes with someone’s checkbook and I can tell you where their heart is.” It is true, isn’t it? Our spending habits say a lot about us. They tell us what we need, what we desire, for whom or for what we sacrifice, where we go, who is important to us and what values we hold.

This Gospel account is a brilliant portrayal of Jesus’ wisdom. He was purposely put on the defensive. He did not respond in kind. He did not lose his temper. He did not preach. Gently yet firmly, he simply batted the question back into the court of the asker. With that, he reminds us that in this world there are things that rightly belong to Caesar…to government…to others…to the civic community and there are things that rightly belong to God. Our challenge is to not confuse the two.

As residents of the United States, we enjoy all the services that come to us because of taxes. Good roads, competent fire and police protection, civil servants who represent us and public schools come to mind. To run smoothly, things that “belong to Caesar” must be given to Caesar. But, what is it that belongs to God?

Ironically, the things that belong to God don’t cost a dime. Our devotion, our fidelity, our love, our passion and our prayer come from the heart. They come from an inner drive to better ourselves and pay homage to God who is crazy about us. What belongs to God is our desire to sacrifice for others, our charity, our commitment to prayer, our willingness to strive for things that will gain heaven for us.

Tax is what’s tacked on to the cost of something in support of something else. So, what is the tax God puts on the gifts we receive? We see a sunset. Does it take our breath away? Do we point it out to someone else to enjoy? We relate to another person. Do we tell her or him how important they are? Do we say “I love you?” We come to prayer. Do we concentrate on the sacred words of Scripture and realize how our lives can be changed by hearing them? Do we praise God with each syllable? Accepting the gifts of God is one thing but, I would submit, going the extra mile to recognize the significance of the gift and sharing it with others is the tax. It’s the extra tacked on.
So, in honor of God’s great gifts to us let us pay our due, let us gratefully pay our taxes.

Back to our checkbook. As a community, we have one. We use it for everything…our food, our healthcare, our buildings, our ministries. The question that lies before us is do we keep that book balanced? Do we spend what we have to benefit others in the same proportion that we spend it to take care of ourselves?

If Billy Graham were to look at our checkbook where would he find our heart?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite gospel readings