October 22, 2023: Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
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.”
Would you look at that! The Pharisees think flattery will throw Jesus off the scent. How little they understand him. But, boy, how they do understand typical human behavior! Who among us hasn’t used (or been entrapped by) flattery? There’s a fine line between knowing our strengths and who we are as human beings and allowing ourselves to be lulled into thoughts or behaviors under the influence of someone else’s honeyed words.
Being immune to flattery requires deep self-knowledge, the kind of knowledge that comes through prayer, reflection and study. Clearly, Jesus knew himself in ways we never will. But we can try. We can also understand that identifying flattery will disrupt the power dynamic.
Are we prepared to potentially make enemies? Sometimes that’s what the truth costs. As someone who was raised to not make waves, to be silent and “good,” I realize I need to find that strength within me. Otherwise, I’m a hypocrite, too.
1 Peter 2:17 reads in part, “Fear God, Honor the King.” It’s a tidy summary of the message of this parable. One way to honor our duties as citizens is to vote. In the coming year, we will be deluged with messages regarding the upcoming national elections.
Make a plan now to shield yourself from the divisiveness that awaits us. Form criteria for sifting through the media bombardment and making a choice that honors your commitment to love, mercy and justice.
Decide, too, what can you do to help others make informed and smart choices, while still honoring their personhood.