XXIX Sunday in ordinary time

XXIX Sunday in ordinary time

Thu, 15 Oct 20 Lectio Divina - Year A

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Ps 96:1,3, 4-5,7-8,9-10; I Thes. 1: 1-5b; Mt 22:15-21

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6

In this passage the prophet makes a revelation from God that at first sight sounds amazing: Cyrus, a pagan king who does not know the Lord (Is 45:4) is called "chosen" (Is 45:1), indeed the Hebrew term is "anointed", messiah, a title normally reserved for the king of Israel (1Sam 9:26). But God's plans are "inscrutable" (cf. Is 55:6-9) and he is the Lord of history: "there is nothing outside of me. I am the Lord, there is no other "(Is 45:5). "For the love of Jacob, my servant, and of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by name, I have given you a title, although you do not know me" (Is 45: 4). These words clearly show that the initiative belongs to the Lord, who acts in full freedom, outside of any human initiative. After all, who can boast of having given advice to God? (cf. Is 14:13).

I Thes 1: 1-5b

The second reading presents us with the beginning of the first letter to the Thessalonians. Paul and his companions Silvanus and Timothy wish "grace and peace" "to the Church of the Thessalonica which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ" (1Thes 1:1).

The expression of greeting is repeated at the beginning and at the end of the Pauline letters; it can be read as a stereotyped formula, or in the depth that the two words, grace and peace, take on in the biblical horizon.

The essential characteristic of the Church is also underlined in the greeting: being "in God the Father and in Jesus Christ". The mission of the Church is to spread the Gospel, a work possible through the word, supported, however, by the divine power, namely the Holy Spirit (1Thes 1,5).

Election is a free gift from God and also for the disciples of the church of Thessalonica what was said in the first reading is valid: the initiative is God's, he must be answered, he must serve as a model of the "servant Israel", to whom one Jesus Christ is conformed.

Mt 22:15-21

With the passage from today's Gospel opens the Matthean account of a series of discussions between Jesus and his opponents that will cover the entire twenty-second chapter of the First Gospel. It begins with a diatribe with the Pharisees and the Herodians (Mt 22,15-22), then moves on to that with the Sadducees (23-33), up to that with a doctor of the law (34-40); the last confrontation will still be with the Pharisees (41-46).

In the first part of the passage we read today three groups of Jews are named: the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians, active in the time of Jesus. The Herodians were the supporters of King Herod and in the Gospels, they are usually named together with the Pharisees; there is no clear theological thought attributed to them. The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, qualified themselves for a different and incompatible attitude with respect to the value of the written Torah (Pentateuch) and the oral Torah, which we could call Tradition. Very schematically, we can say that the Sadducees, the group from which the priests of the temple came out, argued that one had to stick to the letter of the written Torâh; the Pharisees, on the other hand, accepted the development of the oral Torah, which they believed was also contained in the revelation to Moses at Sinai.

  1. The reaction of the Pharisees is that of gathering in council to devise a plan against Jesus. Jesus represents a danger that must be eliminated and to achieve this they are willing to do anything, even to get involved with their usual adversaries, the Herodians. If the strength of Jesus is in his teaching, it is necessary to set him a trap to unhinge this strength by finding contradictions or inconsistencies that make him lose his popularity among the people.

 

  1. The question, formulated with obsequious language, manifests what was the image that the Pharisees had of Jesus: they praise his courage and freedom in expressing his thoughts. The weak side of the Pharisees is that their behaviour was all aimed at the satisfaction of public opinion and all they did was to be admired and seen by men (Mt 6,2.5). For this reason, they are accused by Jesus several times of being hypocrites (Mt 15: 7). The Pharisees see their opposite in Jesus: one who does not try to please anyone. To teach the way of God according to truth, it is necessary, like Him, not to take care and not to be influenced by the opinion of the people.

 

  1. The request preceded by so much adulation is immediately transformed into an imperative order that does not allow alternatives: “Tell us”. They order Jesus to publicly express his thoughts on the hateful domination of the Romans, declaring themselves openly on the question of paying taxes to the rulers. They want Jesus to stand up for or against Roman power. The Pharisees and Herodians, who do not express their opinion on the matter, do not ask Jesus for a simple opinion ("What do you think?") But to define the question in an authoritative way: "Is it permissible?" that is, in the light of the Law, is it allowed to pay the tax? With this formula, which concerns the commandment and the will of God, the pious Jew asked himself vital questions, to which the rabbi had to know how to respond (cf. Mt 12: 2-12; 14:4; 19:3).

The trap is well thought out: whatever answer Jesus gives; this will be backfired. If Jesus is in favour of paying taxes to the Roman emperor, an idolatrous pagan, he will fall short of what is prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy: Listen, Israel: the Lord is our God, one is the Lord. (Dt 6: 4). In addition to contravening the law, Jesus' response would be to recognize the legitimacy of the occupation and to alienate the sympathies of those who saw him as a liberator. On the other hand, if Jesus responds with an invitation not to pay the tribute, his position is understood as a political rebellion and the presence of the Herodians ensures his prompt arrest.

  1. Jesus who does not look at anyone in the face and who is not in awe of anyone does not respond to their requests but attacks them with a heavy accusation. The question was not aimed at learning, but dictated by their wickedness a term that appears only here throughout the gospel. Pharisees and Herodians are the ones who tempt Jesus ("Then some Pharisees came to him to put him to the test ..." Mt 19,3) and their action prolongs that of Satan, defined by Matthew the tempter (Mt 4,3). All their oily ceremonial is liquidated by Jesus with a clear affirmation: "hypocrites". They pretend to have a topical issue at heart, but in truth what interests them is to discredit Jesus in order to then be able to trap him.

  1. Once again Jesus does not respond with theories but through practical experiences and asks them to realize what they are asking for. To understand the episode, it is necessary to know that in the "money" (silver) presented by them, the emperor is depicted as a god. The opponents have in their pocket money available, with the effigy of the emperor, regardless of the sacredness of the place (area of ​​the Temple) where they are located. The coin is a symbol of the dominant power, bringing it with them the Pharisees and Herodians show who their true lord is.

 

  1. 20-21 They asked Jesus if it was lawful to give-pay the tribute to the emperor. Jesus does not respond with their verb, but with return / make, Return [said of a debt] once and for all. That money with the effigy and the inscription belongs to the emperor and it is to him that it must be returned. The money belongs to the emperor but the "everything" belongs to God: the people also belong to God. The total lordship of God is reaffirmed: "and to God what belongs to God". The lordship of God was usurped and defaced by the Pharisees by transgressing the commandment of God (Listen, Israel: the Lord is our God, one is the Lord. Deut 6:4); they have taken possession of the people who belong to God: they must decide to give back.

 

The attack on Jesus remained fruitless. Not only have they failed to catch him out, they have been caught out, deserving the title of hypocrites and tempters. The Pharisees and Herodians leave Jesus as the devil left him (Mt 4:11) in the desert after the temptation to worship power. But if in the desert after the devil left him, the angels approached Jesus to serve him, here failure does not stop the institution that now sends the economic and religious aristocracy to attack: the Sadducees.

Meditation

The lordship of God is at the heart of the first reading as of the gospel. The prophetic passage underlines the absolute freedom of God and his uniqueness ("I am the Lord, there is no other": Is 45:6). The Gospel shows the relativization of human authorities, even the emperor, who at the time was deified, before God. If the state authority can demand taxes and tributes (cf. Rom 13: 7), if given respect (Rom 13,7), fear must be reserved for God (1 Pt 2:17), creator and lord of every man.

Jesus' answer to the trick question addressed to him by his adversaries follows two paths: he avoids the politicization of the image of God and opposes the sacralization of political power. In fact, on the one hand, Jesus distances himself from the zealots who considered God as the only legitimate "Caesar" and, on the other, criticizes the sacralization of political power by demythologizing Caesar. In both cases we are faced with idolatrous temptations. In the first case, the temptation is to give God what is due to Caesar, to the state entity, falling into totalitarian and non-dialogical religious positions, disrespectful of the "secularism" of the state and political power; in the second, the temptation is to give to Caesar what belongs to God, within an absolutization of political power.

The words of Jesus' response to his interlocutors are particularly important in their second part, when Jesus adds - unnecessary because not required by the question that was asked - the affirmation that concerns "giving God what belongs to God". This claim means that, if the emperor demands for himself what belongs to God, such as adoration, the Christian - mindful of the word that says: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) - not he is required to give it to him, indeed he can even face martyrdom, showing that only God is the Lord of life.

Prayer

O God, you are the King of history and you make everything work together for the good of those who love you: even the most difficult trials, our exiles. Grant us your Spirit, so that we can see the complex events of history in the light of faith, seeing in them your loving hand that realizes the wonderful plan of salvation for all humanity. We thank you for calling us to collaborate on your project and asking us to know how to assume our responsibilities in the civil and political sphere. The word of your Son infuses us with an increased awareness: human power can neither be demonized nor deified, but the orientation of our freedom must be manifested in it.

We thank you for having made us in your image and for having revealed our Christian vocation to us: it commits us to answer for the moral quality of the big and small choices in everyday life. Thank you because with your help we will be able to live all this, giving back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to you, O our God, what is yours. That is our own lives!