Scripture: Lectionary # 146: 29th Sunday A Cycle: Isaiah 45:1.4-6. Psalm
96: 126.96.36.199-8,9-10. I Thessalonians 1:1-5. Matthew 22:15-21
We Christians move about in a secular world and a sacred perspective. The
sacred and the secular seem to be the themes we meet in our readings
especially in Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6 and in the Gospel of Matthew 22: 15-21.
The wisdom of Jesus teaches us how to discern the two worlds of the sacred
and the secular and how to respond to what they mean in our day. Jesus is
confronted by a tricky question from the scholars and leaders of his
religion and they want to know whether they, God’s Chosen People, have to
pay taxes. He solves the dilemma by having them present him a coin that
has an image of Caesar on it probably Caesar Augustus, one of the more
peaceful of emperors. “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God
what belongs to God.” His wisdom gives them an answer they did not expect.
He knew how to discern what was sacred and what was secular. He knew about
reading the signs of the times—his times. They were occupied by Roman
soldiers and had to pay taxes to the Romans. Another story similar to this
is the miraculous catch that Peter makes after Jesus tells him to do so and
thus he finds enough staters (coins or a coin) to pay both his tax and
Jesus’ to the Romans!
We are constantly up against making decisions about our Christian values
and our motivations over against the screaming and tantalizing call of the
secular world. Wisdom is necessary to discern how not to be influenced or
controlled by what is not good in the culture. We are not to be controlled
by secular desires and obsession about having all we can have while
neglecting to think of our neighbor, our neighborhood, and our planet.
Cyrus was a powerful Persian King who symbolized the secular and its power.
However, he read the signs of what would be best for the people of Israel
and thereby was called by God to help them go back to their homeland and to
protect them in their return. We are called by God as Christians to live
in this world without being controlled by its values that often are
contrary to the Gospel and the Torah. Culture and religion are part of our
everyday experience and they do not always mesh; they are sometimes a “
both…and”, but often are an “either …or” choice for us. Just as Cyrus
cooperated with the plan of God in a history of salvation, so must we. When
we discern the realm of God breaking into the secular we can transcend our
limited view of what is happening in the universe and enter into the bigger
picture. This offers a practical way of transcendence to touch what is
divine while living in our earthly surroundings.
The Second Vatican Council ((1962-1965) is a blueprint for a theology of
how to live in today’s world as a committed Christian. The sixteen
documents are based on reflections on the Gospel in the light of the
pastoral needs of our living in the world. Some Christians take vows and
thus live in the world but are not of the world in their goals and
pursuits. They discern the signs of the culture in the light of the divine
word of God found in the Scriptures both the Old Testament and the New
Testament. We discern how to be in the world without being possessed by
it. In certain critical situations we need to be counter-cultural and to
keep in mind the principle Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. We belong to
God and yet we realize we belong in some respects to Caesar! The call of
God and of Vatican II encourages us to read the signs of the times while
having the Gospel embedded within our hearts that we may bring forth the
wisdom of Jesus in our decision making, our discernment, and our fidelity
to the values of the Scriptures and the Church.
From Cyrus we learn that we too are called by name and have a role in our
secular history by realizing God’s plan of salvation is at work (salvation
From Paul we learn the great forces of faith, hope, and love. We are to be
active in and through our faith, unwearied in our love, and enduring in our
From the Psalm Response we learn our priority: “Give the Lord glory and
And from Jesus, the Wisdom of God, we know how to give to God what is God’s
and to secular society what is “Caesar’s.”
We pray with the psalmist: “The Lord is King, he governs the peoples with
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