WORLD MISSION SUNDAY
First Reading: Is 45:1. 4-6; Psalm: 96. R. v. 7b; Second Reading: 1Thes 1:1-5b; Gospel: Mt 22:15-21.
THE COIN OF CAESAR AND OUR TRIBUTE TO GOD
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Every country has a legal tender largely featuring the portraits of selected historic individuals of the country; and in rare cases, foreign leaders who contributed remarkably to the history of the nation. The imprint of these iconic individuals on currency notes is a way to honour them and make indelible their outstanding achievements to inspire the nation at large. This is partly why a country’s legal tender loses its potency and usage outside the borders of that country. Here in South Africa, every single currency notes features the portrait of Nelson Mandela, a man whose fight for freedom inscribed his name on the tablet of the country’s history.
In the days of Jesus, there were four legal tenders relatively in use due to the mixture of neighbouring regions such as the Jewish, Greeks, Romans, and Syrians all present in Judea at that time. These four legal tenders are the Phoenician shekel, Half-shekel, Jewish Hasmonean lepton, and the Roman denarius. In the gospel of today, intending to trap Jesus, the Pharisees and the Herodians asked him; “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The tax in question here is the census tax. And the legal tender for the payment of the census tax is the Roman denarius. This was the same coin they handed over to Jesus at his request. Holding the coin Jesus asked: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
A brief survey on the look of the Roman coin reveals that the emperor Tiberius Caesar had his image imprinted on the coin as a way to immortalising himself. On the coin contains an inscription calling him divine. Caesar was everything worldly. His thirst for power, wealth, fame, and pleasure was ginormous. But Caesar did not live forever. Caesar died. And nothing explains better than to see that nothing actually belonged to Caesar. Everything belongs to God. This should throw more light in understanding this passage of the scripture.
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” is one of the verses in the scriptures that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by many. This passage neither creates a wedge between the Church and the State nor delineates the sovereignty between them. But in this passage is hidden the supremacy of God over everything. God’s divine operation is boundless. We do not close the door of the Church or the door to Christian morality as we step into the society. We do not say, “Now, this is not about God and religion but about the people and what they want” as though God is removed from the operational dynamics of the society. We do not put our faith on hold to subscribe to conventional ethics in making new legislation that are opposed to the moral good. If everything was made by God, and if everything belongs to God; then anything that is apparently attributed to Caesar must succumb to God so that all that is God’s is given to God.
The image of Caesar is imprinted on a coin. But the image of God is imprinted on our souls. The coin with the imprint of Caesar represents everything worldly. It represents our civic responsibilities, our appetites, dreams, and every conventional ethics of the society. What Jesus is saying is that to attend to these earthly demands, we must bear in mind that we carry within ourselves the image of God wherever we go. We owe our existence to God who lives within our souls beckoning on us to do everything good. So, we are God’s and not Caesar’s. Therefore, we must promote whatever is morally good in the society but push against whatever is opposed to our faith. This is our mission as the Catholic Church all over the world marks the World Mission Sunday today.
The World Mission Sunday is an annual celebration in the Catholic Church customarily observed in the month of October. It was instituted 96 years ago by the Papal decree of Pope Pius XI. This celebration resonates that collectively we are called to the mission of evangelisation around the world. And the gospel of today reminds us that we must do this bearing in mind that we carry within ourselves the image of God.
In his message on this year’s World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis borrowed the scriptural passage of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35) to demonstrate the right disposition to witnessing to the gospel. The Pope highlighted that just like these two disciples, our hearts should burn within us as we hear Christ speak to us in the scriptures. Our eyes should be opened to recognise the truth of the gospel. And our feet should set out on the way to proclaim this gospel of truth.
The Pope’s message is so apt and dovetails perfectly with the gospel of today. To render to God what is God’s is to witness to the gospel with our lives wherever we go; knowing that we owe our existence to God whose image we bear. An image that is indelible; an image that sets our hearts on fire, opens our eyes to the truth and inspires us to promote and stand for everything that is morally good in the society. We live in a world that is making a day to day effort to institutionalise the Church. Conventional norms and practices that kick against the Christian moral principles are gradually infiltrating the Church. Christians now promote practices and adopt lifestyles that are at variance with the faith they profess taking sides with Caesar than with God. No time is more right than now to get up and set out our feet on the way to witness to the truth of the gospel.
The government here in South Africa have dropped the ball on matters that should encourage Christian morality. The policies and laws of the country dim the light and threaten to extinguish our Christian moral values. Abortion is legal and teenage girls have access to abortifacients at the early stages of puberty. Cohabitation is normal. Sex education is taught schools which raises the question on where exactly to draw the line. There is increase in teenage pregnancies, single parenthood, uterine siblings, and absent parenting which exposes the child to a kind of upbringing and formation dictated by the society. These are practices that we should stand up against for a healthier society. Perhaps, if we are doing enough in witnessing to the faith we profess; we can save our society from this decay.
We can picture ourselves standing before Jesus; and Jesus looking us in the eye asking: “Whose likeness and inscription are you?” If we agree that it is God’s which is rightly so; then we must begin to pay our tribute to God by putting God first in everything. This loyalty to God is intrinsic and unending; for we carry within us the imprint of God’s image. Caesar’s gold coin will pass away. Every earthly gain will vanish. But our soul – that life of God within us will never die. So, our mission today is to set out our feet on the way to pay tribute to God in our families and in the larger society by witnessing and defending our faith by our lifestyles, ideologies, consent, collaborations, decisions, choices, and even defiance if so required. Because at the end of the day, we owe our existence to God and we should return back to God.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the consciousness that we carry within us the image of God; so that in every choice we make, we may honour God and give to him all that is rightfully his. Amen.