Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
October 20 - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
For God or For Caesar
Since the time of King Solomon (about a thousand years before Christ), taxes had been collected from the citizens of the kingdom of Israel, although not in a fully organized manner. The Persians and the Greeks, who occupied the country (500 and 150 years before our Lordís birth), had also established the system of tax collection. With the Roman domination of Palestine, which became more definite starting from year 6 of the Christian era, the system was strictly enforced on the Israelites. In fact, the Roman Government retained all excess production of the country in the wide network of customs collectors who were created to be in charge of the collection of the different taxes, thus controlling the flow of commerce throughout the province.
†† Pilate, the governor of the Roman province of Judea, was the supreme representative of Emperor Tiberius in Palestine. Actually, his main function was precisely to attend to the finances of the empire; therefore, the supervision of tax collection was an essential aspect of his job. On the other hand he had to keep the people at bay, who rebelled every now and then due to the economic exploitation which the system, through various measures, imposed. Judea should pay.
†† Romeís 600 talents (6 million denarii) is in the form of annual taxes. (A laborer was paid a daily wage of one denarius.) The taxes collected by Rome in Palestine were of three types: (1) Territorial taxes (paid partly in cash and partly in the produce of the land); (2) Personal taxes (of several types: according to wealth or income; another was of a general type which was paid by everyone, except by children and old citizens called the ďtributum capitisĒ Ė per head. The evangelical account makes allusion to this); (3) Business taxes (on import and export items).
†† The high priests Ė the supreme religious authorities of Israel Ė ďmade a pactĒ with the Romans to ensure their power and, above all, their privileged economic situation. During Jesusí time the high priests were Annas (6-15 years after Christ) and some of his sons; and from year 18 to 37, his son-in-law, Joseph Caiphas, who appears in the episode. Like Annas, Caiphas belonged to the religious aristocracy and to one of the wealthiest families of Jerusalem. Caiphas tried to get along with Pilate, who dominated him with all types of political and economic pressures, to the extent of threatening him. For instance, one measure resorted to by the Roman governor was to keep the sacred garments worn by the high priest during religious feasts in the Antonia Tower Ė a Roman quarters near the Temple. The governor would hand them over only for the feasts, and later, the garments would be returned to him for safekeeping. (This tactic was also employed by Herod the Great and by Archelaus.) This symbolized the lack of independence of the religious authority with respect to the political power of the empire.
†† In his conversation with the high priest, Caiphas, Pilate mentioned the construction of the aqueduct of Jerusalem. Obviously, in Jesusí time, Pontius Pilate was the implementor of the great engineering work, part of which is still preserved. Pilate, who hated the Jews and who had offended their religious feeling on several occasions, took money from the so-called ďTempleís treasuryĒ for said construction. Such money was considered sacred by the religious Israelites. This act provoked impassioned revolts from the people against the Roman powers. The Revolts were suppressed by the soldiers with cudgel blows, which were not mentioned by the historians of the period.
†† The gospel text makes reference to two Roman emperors. Augustus Caesar ruled from the year 30 before Christ to year 14 after his birth. With him started the imperial dynasty of the Claudius family. The other one is Caesar Tiberius, son of the second wife of Augustus, who ruled from the year 14 to 37. It was under his rule that Jesus was killed. After him, other Caesars continued to rule in Rome: Caligula, Claudius, Nero... Tiberius made Augustus, his foster father, a ďgod.Ē Gradually, the lust for power of all emperors demanded that all their subjects should worship them. In Jesusí time, this tendency to deify the emperor became more and more intense, and eventually became the practice until the fall of the Roman Empire. Caligula was worshipped alive. The Caesars had made images of themselves to be venerated by making their subjects prostrate before them, etc. All this was nothing but the fruit of ambition, and above all, a wise tactic to strengthen their power and ensure submission on the part of the subjects. This idea, however, of trying to impose Roman power among the subjected people of Israel did not prosper because the Jews, faithful to the faith, strongly resisted blasphemy. But this was not so among their leaders, who, in spite of the fact that theoretically, they could not accept that the Caesar was god, in practice, ignored the whole thing and remained silent, in complicity with the established authority.
†† The local government (the Sanhedrin Ė Council or Tribunal of Israel Ė whose supreme authority was the high priest), was actually wanting in initiative on matters of taxes, as well as the question of relationships with other countries and defense. Its only function was to maintain religious worship and ensure strict observance of the law. In cases like that mentioned in the episode, it was clearly manifested up to what extent Israel yielded to the arbitrary whims of a foreign power.
†† ďGive to Caesar what is due him, and to God what is GodísĒ is, perhaps, one of the most over-used phrases in the gospel. This has been employed continuously at all times, to define turfs and to show that the priests and the Christians should not involve themselves in political matters nor interfere in matters of the State, but rather, in concerns about God: praying, going to church.... Do not mix the different turfs or concerns, they claim, ďto each his own.Ē Yet, the original meaning of these words of Jesus was not this. Jesus was removing from Caesar the religious basis on which the emperor wanted to rest his authority. Thus he separated God from Caesar to demythify the image of the emperor, the supreme authority of the period, in order to say that Caesar was not God.
†† One of the more frequent reasons for popular revolts in Israel were the taxes. It was precisely the refusal to pay taxes which sparked the Jewish revolt of the year 70 after Jesus, which destroyed the very foundations of Jerusalem and dismantled the Jewish society. Along that line, the question directed to Jesus about the payment of taxes was crucial. The zealots refused to pay their taxes as a form of active resistance to the present empire. The collaborating classes (sadducees, priests), recommended its payment. The pharisees were in doubt. Theoretically, they were against it, since they were very nationalistic, but in practice, they ended up complying with the order. In the episode, Jesus does not legitimize the Roman occupation by payment of taxes, neither does he show that non-payment is a form of open rebellion against the ruling power. His reply can be taken in another plane: that of total freedom before the secular authority.
†† History is replete with proofs showing that the authority of the kings (and later, that of a number of rulers) ďcomes from God.Ē For many centuries, it had been said that God ďelectsĒ the king. The following line has also been stated time and again: ďA certain somebody, president, by the grace of God.Ē But this is not so. Authority is chosen by people ≠Ė if it is a democracy. If it is authoritarian, governance/authority is imposed.
(Mt 22:15-22; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26)
Taken from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 3 (Chapter
This book offers a new approach to appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the Chapter is in dialogue form in an up-to-date conversational language. This makes the reader realize that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy, a typical man in his time. The last part of each chapter contains an explanation of the biblical references, thus giving one the perspective for reflection.