As Christians, I think we’ve all heard the expression, “live in the world, but be not of the world.” I think the gospel for this Sunday is a perfect example of that.
Jesus is being tested yet again by the Pharisees, trying, once again, to “trap him in his words.” They are very cunning and deceitful. In fact, the beginning of this gospel reminds me of another gospel passage, the very passage on which St. John Paul II starts his entire Theology of the Body; Matthew 19. We see there that the Pharisees tried to test Jesus and trap him by asking him about divorce: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” In this passage they were trying to put him at odds with the teachings of Moses, hoping to expose to his followers that Jesus is a fraud and must not be of God, but rather just some liar in this world. In today’s gospel, they are trying to put Jesus at odds with Caesar, the Roman Emperor. I guess they figured that they failed at their “religious” attempt to discredit him, so now they had to go for the “worldly” attempt. Like the Serpent in Gen 3, they will not tire at distorting truth, trying to confuse people and make them question God. Jesus however, is not swayed by their wicked ways. He knows who he is and whose he is, and, pardon the pun, but he “flips the coin on them.”
“Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” they ask. Jesus, knowing their malice, responds, “…Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” He holds up the coin and says, “whose image is this and whose inscription?” We all know the rest of the story. They failed again. Not only did they fail, but also “they marveled” at this response. They couldn’t argue with him anymore…at least not for now. Even the Serpent left the garden for a time…only to come back again with more trickery up his sleeve.
The underlying factor of both the story of the Serpent in Genesis 3 and the Pharisees in today’s gospel is that they were both trying to make a human being seem that they are not who he or she really is. In Genesis this occurs with Adam and Eve, in the Gospel of Matthew with Jesus himself. But again, God, “flips the coin” on both situations. The “good fruit” of the Fall of Genesis is the very coming forth of Jesus… through the New Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary. The good fruit of the “coin flip” in Matthew 22 is that Jesus reminds us exactly who we are, whose we are, and where our priority belongs. Let’s take a very good look at the followings words of Jesus again, “whose image is this, and whose inscription?” He is speaking about the image and inscription on a coin. But when we have a better understanding of the Theology of the Body, we can see (with sacramental lenses) that Jesus is at the same time giving a brief commentary on the human person made in the image and likeness of God. “Whose image and inscription” is on the coin? Caesars? Fine, give him the worldly respect he deserves. But whose “image and inscription” is on the human body, imprinted on the human soul, sealed on the human heart, and within the human intellect and will? God’s! Then “give to God what belongs to God.” This is the most important truth, it is not merely of this world, but rather heavenly, and nothing in heaven above, in hell below, or anything on this earth can change this. We belong to God. Not as slaves belong to a master, but as children belong to parents. And just as children are literally the image and likeness of their mother and father, we, as children of God, are even more so made in his divine image and likeness. This is what angers the devil so much and why he attacked Adam and Eve in the Garden, why he attacked Christ through the Pharisees, and we he attacks us over and over and over again. Our dignity as human beings is a divine dignity. We are BEAUTIFUL…we are AMAZING! Like Jacob in the first reading, we are God’s chosen ones. He has called us by name. He has given us a title; God’s BELOVED sons and daughters. If we really knew who we were, if we understood this truth, it would change the way we see ourselves, others, and the entire world around us. It would change EVERYTHING!
What defines us is not what we do, but who we are and whose we are. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, the image and inscription on our bodies, which reveals everything (our heart, mind, soul, so on and so forth) is GOD…nothing can be greater than that…there is no other truth. And once we understand this and believe this, we must treat ourselves and others accordingly. The times of disrespecting ourselves should be over. We are not “garbage.” We are not a walking mat. We are not a piece of meat, we are not useless, unimportant, ugly, disposable, repeatable, and neither is anyone else. We, men and women, boys and girls, are the most important and beautiful creatures on God’s green earth, and also in heaven above. Why don’t we start seeing ourselves as God sees us? Maybe only then will all of the self-hatred, bullying, cutting, drug and alcohol addiction, pornography and sex addiction, over-eating addiction, stop. Maybe only then, when we see ourselves and others as God sees us will we not kill each other anymore…when the wars will stop…when the racism will end…when abortion will be history.
The coin has Caesars image and inscription…you and I have God’s. Our spiritual, mental, physical and emotional battle for the rest of our lives will be to reclaim that truth every single day. We WILL be tempted to doubt it….when others put us down, when we sin or make mistakes, and when we are tempted through the subtle lies of the evil one. But keep in mind that Christ lives within us….it is “with him, in him, and through him” that we are who we are. He will fight this battle for our identity for us if we allow him to. It’s why he came to this world, to destroy to works of the evil one…and the greatest work that the devil twisted is the lie that we are not who we truly are and that God doesn’t care about us. So we must take a firm stand in the truth of Christ and proclaim aloud who and whose we are, and as we see from the scriptures, when divine truth is proclaimed, the lie and the liars flee…angry, baffled and confused, or even marveling at our words. And we are the ones set free. Because truth sets us free. Let’s live in that freedom folks…the Freedom we have in Christ.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Paul Houlis is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and he currently serves as the Parochial Vicar at St. Paul Catholic Church in Ramsey, New Jersey. He has attended TOB I, TOB II (where he served as chaplain), TOB III, Theology of the Body & Art: The Way of Beauty, and the Theology of the Body & Priestly Identity courses.