Reflection: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
Is. 45:1,4-6; 1 Thess. 1:1-5b; Mt. 22:15-21.
The first reading from Isaiah 45 is a very revealing prophecy. Isaiah says that Cyrus, a pagan king of Persia was chosen by God, called by name and anointed even though he did not know Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. Yahweh will subdue nations before him and make kings serve him. He calls Cyrus “my shepherd” and he will restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. This prophecy tells us that the human person does not make himself worthy to be called and chosen by God, rather it is God who chooses whom he wills to do great things for his people. When Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go three days journey in the desert to offer sacrifice to him there, Pharaoh said “I do not know God and I will not do what you ask.” In Cyrus’ case, it was God who acted, chose him, called him and anointed him. God is sovereign: he announces what he intends to do and he does it. “I am the Lord, there is no other,” he keeps repeating throughout the prophecy in Isaiah 45. Many Rabbis in Israel claim that President Trump is the Cyrus of today: the 45th president of the USA, who puts back Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, placing the US embassy there, encouraging Israel to rebuild the Temple, although at the start, he was uncouth and irreverent. God chooses whom he wills.
In Matthew 22, the apostles had already acknowledged Jesus as “Truly, you are the Son of God” after he walked on the water in a storm (14:33). Peter already confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). At the transfiguration the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son” (17:5). And yet we still see the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in his words, this time even with their usual enemies, the Herodians. It was a double edged question: if Jesus said ‘yes, pay the tax’, he would be a traitor recognizing Rome’s pagan dominion over the people of God; if he said ‘no, don’t pay the tax,’ the Roman soldiers were ready to imprison him. The Pharisees thought they would trap Jesus and be rid of him. But Jesus knew their malice and gave an unexpected reply. He took the words out of their mouth. He asked for the coin of the tax and said, “Whose image and inscription are these?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Jesus concluded, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The temple tax was paid with temple money and civil tax with Roman money. By possessing and using Roman money, they acknowledged their subjection to the emperor; Jesus did not say it, they were doing it. With that, the Jews could not call him ‘traitor’ nor could the Roman soldiers imprison him. With their own words they answered their question, and Jesus was not trapped as they planned. Have I already acknowledged Jesus as my Lord and Savior? Or do I still evade the truth with so many questions?