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Giving What Is Owed and Beyond
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
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.”
Opening Prayer: Holy Spirit, visit my soul in this moment of prayer. Widen my heart and sharpen my mind so that I can find what you have prepared for me.
- What “Belongs to God?”: The Pharisees, we’re told, were trying to trap Jesus with this question about paying taxes. In general, their opposition to Our Lord was mounting. Jesus did not humiliate them with his answer. He simply invited them to give to God what belongs to God. The last line of this anecdote, which was not included in today’s reading, tells us, “When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away” (Matthew 22:22). Were they amazed because they wondered what belongs to God? We can ask the same question today, “What belongs to God?” Specific things belong to God for what they are: Sundays, for example; or an object consecrated for sacred use only; or things that are owed to God by pure justice, like gratitude, praise, obedience, etc. There are also things that belong to God because we freely choose to give them to him, like our time, our energies, and our sacrifices.
- Things I Want to Give to God: Let’s stop here for a moment, and consider and specify what kinds of things we have chosen to give to God. To make a free gift not rooted in justice or duty is an act of generosity and love. If you have given some of your belongings to God, call them to mind now. Talk to Jesus about it. Maybe you have given your talent to Jesus. Once more, reaffirm that gift. Or have you contributed your time? Conversely, are there things you have given over to God that you keep retracting? Look at these also, ponder them, and talk to Jesus about it. Ask for the grace to once again place them in Jesus’s loving, open hands.
- More Than Generosity: Loving God by giving to him our thoughts, words, actions, time, talents, and sufferings is an act more beautiful than we realize. It might feel like mere renunciation. But when we bring those treasures into the light of God, he lets them shine and sparkle. Handing them to God makes them even more precious. Hence, giving God what belongs to him warrants a celebration, because we don’t lose out; rather, we receive it back in greater splendor, even one-hundred fold. As Jesus told St. Catherine of Siena,“…here they receive the fire of divine charity figured by the number of a hundred… And because they have received this hundredfold from Me, they possess a wonderful and hearty joy, for there is no sadness in charity, but the joy of it makes the heart large and generous, not narrow or double” (Dialogue of St. Catherine).
Conversing with Christ: Lord, I recognize that everything I have you have given me. Giving over what belongs to you means that you ask me to deeply acknowledge this fact. When I’m tempted to covet something–anything–remind me, Lord, of this truth. “My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you. My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you. My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you” (St. Nicholas of Flüe).
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will consciously give of my time, talent, or treasure in a particular moment or situation.
For Further Reflection: “And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life. Amen” (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday, April 24, 2005, during the Mass for the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome: Complete homily).
Written by Father Gabriel von Wendt, LC.