Christ Teaches Us What We Owe to God and the Common Good

User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 22

Above, Mother Teresa kisses the hand of Pope John Paul II during an audience Nov. 8, 1978. These saints teach us about our duties to God and to the common good.
Above, Mother Teresa kisses the hand of Pope John Paul II during an audience Nov. 8, 1978. These saints teach us about our duties to God and to the common good. (photo: - / AFP via Getty Images)

Sunday, Oct. 22, is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21.

Today’s Gospel speaks of our duties to God and to the common good. Let’s take a look. 

The Gospel describes an unlikely set of allies. The text says, “The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech ... with the Herodians.” The Pharisees disliked the Herodians. It was a combination of political and racial hatred, just about as poisonous as you could get in the ancient world, yet they both agreed that this Jesus fellow had to go.

In their opening remarks to Jesus, his enemies give him grudging respect. They do so not to praise but to provoke. They say, “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?” The praise is largely a pretext that is used to provoke. They are only using this to draw Jesus into a silly human debate over politics and worldly power. They don’t really want an answer; they want something to use against him. If Jesus says, “Yes, pay the taxes,” it will make him unpopular with the crowds. If he says “No, don’t pay the taxes,” he will be arrested and likely executed. 

“Knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?’”: Not everyone who engages us is truly looking for an answer or for the truth. We cannot always know such things, but Jesus surely could. Jesus called them on their pretense and authoritatively announces the principle with the goal of ending the conversation and sending them away to think.

Jesus says, simply, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Such an answer elicits in us a desire for elaboration, but in our demands for more detail, we too often seek to conceal the fact that we really know the answer. We also betray the need of the flesh to specify everything so as to control and limit its impact.

Repaying Caesar

If we really need a list, we might include some of the following things we ought to do in order to “repay” to Caesar:

1. Obey all just laws.

2. Pay legally assessed taxes.

3. Pray for our country and its leaders.

4. Participate in the common defense based on our abilities and state in life.

5. Take an active and informed role in the political process.

6. Engage in movements for necessary reform.

7. Contribute to the common good through work.

8. Maintain strong family ties and raise disciplined children who are well-prepared to contribute to the common good.

9. Encourage patriotic love of country.

10. Strive for unity and love rooted in truth.

What We Owe God

Here are some things we might include in a list of what we owe to God:

1. Adoration, love and gratitude

2. Obedience to his word and his law

3. Repentance

4. Support of his Church by attendance at sacred worship, financial support and sharing of our gifts and talents

5. Proclamation of his word both verbally and by witness

6. Devoted reception of the sacraments

7. Raising our children in his truth and in reverence of him

8. Evangelization (making disciples)

9. Preparing for death and judgment through a holy life

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