October 17, 2008
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 22:15-21 “Give to God what is due to God”
One day Pedro prayed, “God, I need money, promise, I will give you 50%.” And God replied, “You will find a wild horse outside this church. Sell it.” True to his promise, God sent a wild horse to the church. He also surprised Pedro by giving him a chicken. Pedro was delighted by God’s generosity and went to the market to sell the animals. A farmer came and asked how much is the horse. “It’s only 30 Pesos,” Pedro replied, “but you can’t get the horse without buying the chicken as well.” The farmer replied, “How much is the chicken?” “It’s P10,000.” The farmer exclaimed, “That’s ridiculous!” But he still bought the chicken because he wanted the horse so much. Pedro returned to the church, “Lord, as I have promised, 50% of the horse’s price will go to you. I sold the horse at P30. Here’s P15 for you.” And he smiled, “By the way Lord, I will keep the P10,000 I earned from selling the chicken, anyway we don’t have an agreement with it.” And Pedro left the church with a naughty smile.
Today's gospel is about ingratitude. The Pharisees, having heard Jesus about God's compassionate and reconciling love, remained closed to the good news. They saw Jesus as a threat to their authority and social status. So they planned to trap Jesus with the issue of paying taxes. If Jesus answered taxes shouldn't be paid to Caesar, then the Romans could arrest Him. If he said that the taxes should be paid, then he would be denounced by the Jews. It’s was a win-win situation for the Pharisees. But Jesus wisely avoided their trap and laid down a rule of thumb that has served well every since.
Jesus asked for a coin and said, “Whose image is this?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that Jesus said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is due to Caesar.” (Matthew 22:21).
The usual interpretation of this verse is - one must give what is due to all. That’s justice and fairness. Give what is due to the State, to your family, to your prayer group, to your company and to your friends! No one is an island. All of us are part of a society, a community, a family or a parish. We are intrinsically connected to one another because we are social beings. Thus, we have the obligation to give or return what is due to one another, including paying our BIR annual income tax, annual membership fees, and even our village or condominium’s annual dues.
But there is a deeper meaning in our gospel today. Jesus did not just affirm our duty to contribute to the common good. He adds something more profound and liberating “Give back to God what is due to God.”
Give back to God what? Just as the coin has to be returned to Caesar because it bears his image, so we must also return to God anything that bears his image or “mark of ownership.” Recalling the story of creation, it was explicitly stated that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We are God’s property! Therefore, we need to return to God everything that we possess including ourselves.
Unfortunately, sometimes we forget that all people bear God’s mark; therefore God is the sole owner of all of us. We can’t claim anything as ours, including ourselves. Even the whole creation is God’s because He created everything. We can’t say, “I can do what I want with myself,” or “This is my forest, I can cut all the trees here.” We don’t have the right to exploit, oppress, or abuse anybody or anything. It is fair enough that anything “stolen from God” or “not being returned to God” must be given back to God.
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, a drug addict has no right to abuse his body and a prostitute cannot sell her body. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, an employer cannot exploit his workers or a husband cannot physically and verbally abuse his wife. The earth is the footstool of God (Isaiah 66:1). Therefore, we cannot just throw our garbage in the river, cut trees indiscriminately, and kill endangered animals. A woman has no right to abort an unwanted baby… for it is the Kingdom of Heaven belongs (Matthew 19:14). Open your eyes. Be responsible. Respect and preserve God’s property. Give to God what is due to Him.
On the other hand, giving to God what is due to God is not only in the area of preserving, respecting and protecting people and the whole creation. In gratitude, we also are expected to share our God-given talents, time, and treasure to others. Be generous enough to spend some of your time in personal prayer and community liturgy, listen to people, reserve your Sunday for your family, do some corporal works of mercy, or be involved in any meaningful apostolate. Be a joyful giver. Donate something from what you have and not from your excess. Be a volunteer and share your talents. Find opportunities to serve or create one! Let’s faithfully give to God what is due to Him. God has given us time, treasure and talent. They are free gift. It is easy to share when we realized that everything is a gift from God.
Our gospel reminds me of the paluwagan (credit system by pooling money where members take turn in bringing home the accumulated amount every week or month). The funny thing with paluwagan is we are consistent and on time in giving our contribution only until we receive our sahod (take home money). After receiving our sahod, we become forgetful, lazy or late in giving our contribution. We need to be reminded that our daily or weekly contribution is not an option but an obligation. We have enjoyed and used others’ money in the paluwagan system. It is just right and fair to return the same privilege by faithfully giving our contribution until everybody received their sahod.
We are also in a paluwagan system with God. God is so gracious that He agrees to be the last to receive the “sahod.” God gave us gifts – time, talent, and treasure - for us to enjoy life. But after benefiting from all these gifts, it is just right and fair to return the favor when God’s turn to collect comes. This is our way of showing our gratitude to God. We need to give back to God what is due to Him. It is not an option but an obligation.
In 2002, a strong typhoon flooded the Bicol region. The Jesuit Scholastics spearheaded “Operation Bicol” to gather donations from Manila. Food in bulks and cartons from big companies and rich villages came quickly. The lobby of Loyola House of Studies became an instant bodega. While my brother Jesuits were busy receiving those donations in big boxes, an old woman came to me and handed one small plastic bag of food. She said, “Kaunting tulong po.” It was a bag of two instant noodles and 3 sardines. I know its nothing compared to the bulk and boxes of donations coming in. But I know it’s big in the eyes of God. It’s widow’s mite (Mark 12:38-44). The old woman knew her responsibility: Give what is due to others and to God.
God is always good to us. His grace overflows … why keep it when you can share it!
Fr. Willy M. Samson, SJ
October 19, 2008
Sacred Heart Chapel
Ateneo de Zamboanga University