October 19, 2014 – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Those are the Lord’s words in the final verse of today’s Gospel from Matthew. It is a quote (or something similar) that most of us as Catholics have heard many times. There is a definitive message from Jesus within that statement, and it applies directly to us and to our approach to life.
From God’s statement in the first reading, “There is no God besides me” to Jesus’ reminder to us in the Gospel about what is God’s and what is Caesar’s the theme of one God, one provider, one Lord runs throughout. It is not that the anointing of Cyrus and the prediction by Isaiah of who and what Cyrus would be (Isaiah wrote almost 200 years before Cyrus even came into existence) is not germane to our current theme. The basic point of the first reading is that God is firmly in control. That should be a great comfort to us, but the humbling acceptance of that fact provides challenges to us. As we have stated many times, stewardship is God-centered, and it recognizes absolutely that God is in control. God accomplishes so much already, but think what He can accomplish if those of us with faith follow Him, and seek discipleship and stewardship as a way of life.
St. Paul was very fond of the Thessalonians for many reasons. Historians and scholars and Scripture itself tell us Paul spent only three weeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2), scarcely time to found and establish on a firm footing a Christian community. Yet, as reports come back to Paul, he learns that the community is thriving and is firmly launched. As is regularly the case with Paul, there are subtleties included in his letter which we may miss. He writes this letter on behalf of his companions and fellow evangelists Silvanus and Timothy, but what he communicates has a stronger meaning than that. Observe how he phrases this statement: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers.” There are three telling allusions in that sentence, built around the words “thanks” and “always” and the plurals “We and our.”
Thanks and gratitude are at the basis of stewardship and our attitude toward God. Paul confirms that thanks is something that he and his companions focus on often. In fact, they focus on it always, which means this is a consistent aspect of their thoughts and prayers. Using the plurals implies that prayer is something they do as a group as well as individuals. We, too, are called to prayer, certainly as individuals, but also as communities.
Jesus is confronted with a difficult question by the Pharisees: “Teacher… is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If the Lord said “Yes,” it might seem as if He was denying the authority and power of God; however, if He said “No” He might be viewed as being opposed openly to Rome. His answer is completely in line with Isaiah’s point in the first reading. He acknowledges the existence of civil governments and their right to make certain demands of us. Nevertheless, He also makes it quite clear that we belong to God. We do not belong to Caesar. God is in control. God is our Father and we must be responsible to Him in everything. That is what is meant by living lives of stewardship as God-centered. Stewardship also declares that everything comes from God and everything belongs to God. The Pharisees did not understand stewardship. Do we?