This Sunday’s Gospel text (Mt 22: 15-21) picks up where we left off last Sunday. The wedding feast parable was a subtle attack on the Jewish authorities. Such was their hatred of Our Lord that even two divergent groups did not think twice before they got together to checkmate Jesus: Herodians, a political party at least outwardly friends with the Roman authorities and indifferent to religion; and the Pharisees, puritanical as regards the Jewish law and traditions, and opposed to Roman rule. Devising a ploy from which it seemed impossible for Jesus to escape, they got some young scholars to pose the following question with guileless simplicity: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Jesus was faced with a false dilemma, for to condemn the Roman tax would be to incur the vengeance of those pagan rulers; to consider the tax legitimate would anger the Jews, who had always resented the Roman rule. Seeing through the trick, Jesus asked for a coin, pointed to the image and inscription on it, and promptly replied, keeping his tone light and matter-of-fact: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who used Roman currency for trade and commerce, yet grudged the payment of tax; so too the Herodians, who could easily be charged with detracting against the Roman authority.

Jesus thus made it clear that while political masters seek taxes God seeks souls. Or as Fulton Sheen points out, “Once again He was saying that His Kingdom was not of this world; that submission to Him is not inconsistent with submission to secular powers; that political freedom is not the only freedom. To the Pharisees who hated Caesar came the command: ‘Give unto Caesar’; to the Herodians who had forgotten God in their love of Caesar came the basic principle: ‘Give unto God.’”[1]

Does that amount to serving two masters? No. The two masters that we cannot serve at the same time are God and Mammon (pleasures of the world included). These we cannot serve alike because they are things opposed to each other; to serve one we often (have to) forego the other. For instance, when it comes to running a business and amassing wealth we may think that ends justify the means, sacrificing even religious worship on Sundays and holy days. On the other hand, serving a legitimate temporal authority is necessary for the smooth functioning of society; it is a different matter if the authority acts immorally and illicitly, but our basic aim should always be to align earthly administration with divine law.

In the ultimate analysis, everything belongs to God, doesn’t it? Hence, in the First Reading (Is 45: 1, 4-6), God makes it clear that He is the Lord and there is no other. He is always in control and exercises dominion even over those who do not acknowledge Him. For instance, God had the Persian king Cyrus put an end to Babylonian rule and free the Jews. ‘Anointed’ were the kings of Israel alone, but since Cyrus as God’s instrument in the liberation of Israel is regarded as anointed, too.

To pay God tribute, we ought to sing His praises and “tell among the nations His glory and His wonders among all the peoples.” That is to say, we have to evangelise. We can do so from wherever we are, whatever be our station in life. We can do so without worrying about what we are going to say, for then the Holy Spirit takes charge and guides us. In fact, we can go forth and preach through our actions rather than our words: we can engage in the apostolate of presence. “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words” is a quote commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi.

But alas, on World Mission Sunday being observed today, it is imperative for us to check the nature and state of our Missions. Is evangelisation happening in reality, that is to say, are we genuinely proclaiming the Gospel message, or is it only an exercise in social service? This day is marked by a special collection taken up to support “missionary projects”, but are these the same pious projects that you and I have in mind? Have a look at the links below, to see whether we are “converting” others or “perverting” ourselves! Hence an appeal was recently made by a Lay Catholic faithful organisation, to the Bishops of India, to stop the menace of theological errors being spread under the pretext of “inculturation”: and

In the Second Reading (1 Thes 1: 1-5), St Paul, on behalf of his missionary companions Silvanus and Timothy, and himself, informs the Thessalonians of how he and his own pray and thank God for their “work of faith[2] and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Such graces are divine gifts, which we should always appreciate. Just like the Thessalonians, who were newly formed into a faith community, continued to be challenged by paganism all around them, we Christians in the contemporary world are continually confronted by innumerable temptations and traps from a neo-pagan world. So, the lesson to learn is that what we give unto Caesar should by no means prevent us from giving unto God.


[1] Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1984), p. 203

[2] This throws up the controversial topic of faith without works.