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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore Jesus’s words to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” with the help of philosopher Jacques Ellul; engage Catholic Social Teaching with the U.S. Bishops’ pastoral letter on taxation; and embody what belongs to God with the help of the Agape Community, and artwork by Sarah Fuller.

Commentary by Maria Teresa Kamel

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Isaiah 45:1,4-6

Thus says YHWH to the anointed one, Cyrus,
whom I have taken by the right hand,
for whom I have subdued nations,
stripped the loins of monarchs,
and thrown open all doors
so that even the town gates cannot be shut:
For the sake of Leah and Rachel and Jacob, my Servant,
For the sake of Israel, my chosen one,
I called you by name,
conferring on you an honored title,
even though you do not know me.
I am YHWH, and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
that nations may know
from the rising to the setting of the sun that
there is no one besides me.
I am YHWH, there is no other.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 96

Response: Pay tribute to the God of glory and power.

Sing to Our God a new song! / Sing to Our God, all the earth!
Tell of God’s glory among the nations, / tell God’s marvels to every people.
R: Pay tribute to the God of glory and power.

Our God is great, loud must be God’s praise,
Our God is to be feared beyond all gods.
Nothingness, all the gods of the nations. / Our God made the heavens.
R: Pay tribute to the God of glory and power.

Pay tribute to Our God, families of the peoples,
Tribute to the God of glory and power.
Bring out the offering, bear it before God.
R: Pay tribute to the God of glory and power.

Worship Our God in the sacred courts, / Tremble before Our God all the earth!
Say among the nations, / “The Most High is our Rock!”
Firm has Our God made the world, and unshakable
Our God will judge each nation with strict justice.
R: Pay tribute to the God of glory and power.

Reading 2

1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

From Paul, Silas and Timothy,
to the people of the church in Thessalonica,
who belong to Abba God and our Savior Jesus Christ:
May grace and peace be yours.
We always thank God for all of you and remember you in our prayers.
We call to mind before our God and Creator
how you are proving your faith by your actions, laboring in love,
and showing constancy of hope in our Savior Jesus Christ.

We know, sisters and brothers beloved of God, that you have been chosen.
Our preaching ofthe Gospel was not a mere matter of words.
It was done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with complete conviction.
You know very well the sort of life we led when we were with you,
which was for your sake.


Matthew 22:15-21

Then the Pharisees went off
and began to plot how they might trap Jesus by his speech.
They sent their disciples to Jesus,
accompanied by sympathizers of Herod, who said,
“Teacher, we know you are honest and teach God’s way sincerely.
You court no one’s favor and do not act out of respect for important people.
Give us your opinion, then, in this case.
Is it lawful to pay tax to the Roman emperor, or not?”

Jesus recognized their bad faith, and said to them,
“Why are you trying to trick me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that is used to pay the tax.”

When they handed Jesus a small Roman coin, Jesus asked them,
“Whose head is this, and whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.

At that, Jesus said to them,
“Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,
but give to God what is God’s.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



What does, in fact, belong to God?

In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus direct his followers to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” It’s tempting to read this challenge as a call to blind obedience to civil authorities, or as a way to leave God out of certain spheres of our life. The French philosopher, Jacques Ellul, argued that we not only misinterpret the message of Christ’s words, but miss his primary directive, to “give to God what belongs to God.”

What does, in fact, belong to God? While many scholars have interpreted the words of Jesus as a clever pivot away from the Pharisees’ disingenuous questioning, Ellul argues that such a reading dismisses the core of Jesus’s teaching, not to mention a truth that would be obvious to any practicing Jew at the time. In Jesus and Marx: From Gospel to Ideology, Ellul asks: “how could a pious Jew of Jesus’s time take this expression as meaning anything but ‘everything?” (168). 

Indeed, turning our attention to just a few verses back, Ellul points out the absurdity of equating civic “obligation” with divine authority. In Matthew 17:24–27, after Peter is admonished by tax collectors for Christ’s failure to pay the temple tax, Jesus tells Peter to “go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up.” Then, Jesus has Peter pay both of their outstanding taxes with a coin he’ll find in the fish’s mouth. As God speaks through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, repeating twice, “I am the LORD and there is no other,” the coin in the fish’s mouth not only “holds power up to ridicule” but points Peter (and us, of course) to the one true master of all that is. 

As a committed Christian anarchist, Ellul lived by the belief that the entirety of our lives, spiritual, social, and political, was solely under God’s authority. Ellul further discouraged the idea that today’s gospel reading “divides the exercise of power into two realms…God’s realm as heaven, spiritual matters, and feelings, with Caesar perfectly entitled to exercise his power over the people and things of this world” (167). Ellul argues that the taxation issue here makes an important distinction: submitting to “governmental jurisdiction” does not mean that Jesus “recognized its validity.” This is evident in Jesus’s consistent refusal to assume any political or partisan power of his own. Furthermore, money, marked by the image of Caesar, indicated its clear ownership. Given that every part of existence depends on God, “the master of life and death” it follows, then, that “Caesar is the legitimate master of nothing, except for what he makes himself.” 

Commentary by Maria Teresa Kamel

Maria Teresa Kamel is an extended community member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. She loves to read short fiction and medieval theology, and splits her time between Los Angeles and her hometown of San Antonio.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

While the Catholic Church has, quite regrettably, excused, condoned, and even encouraged civic duties that run contrary to Christ’s teachings, in 1986 the U.S. Bishops issued a clear outline on the proper moral function of taxation in the form of “Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy.” The letter highlights that tax systems should be primarily assessed by their “impact on the poor,”  and outlines three principles for this purpose:

“First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation. Action should be taken to reduce or offset the fact that most sales taxes and payroll taxes place a disproportionate burden on those with lower incomes. Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.”

While it may be a stretch to claim that this pastoral directive asserts that civil authority is only valid insofar as it’s aligned with protection of the poor and marginalized, the bishops do clearly state that there is no line drawn between the teaching of Jesus and our everyday lives. “As Catholics, the life and words of Jesus and the teaching of his Church call us to serve those in need and to work actively for social and economic justice. As a community of believers, we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us.” 


A Contemplative Exercise

“I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”

Spend some time in silence meditating on the above verse from today’s first reading. See what words or images speak to you, then prayerfully consider their implications in your own life. If you like, you may use the following questions to guide your prayer.

In what ways have you recognized God in your life? Do you feel that you have separated your life into separate realms? In what ways do you place fear before God? Greed? Pride? Ambition? 

Are there any moments in which God was present in your life? Do you find hope in God? Do you find liberation in the invitation to give to God what belongs to God? If there are any ways in which you feel God calls you to live a more integrated life?

You may end this exercise by spending a few moments in silence with God. There’s no need to “make conversation.” Take a few deep breaths and see what you receive. 

A Community

Agape Community

The Massachusetts based Agape Community goes to great lengths to render all that belongs to God, to God. Guided by their Christian roots and a commitment to nonviolence, the Agape Community has found several ways to live out their faith in as integrated a way as possible. In order to avoid contributing to wars through taxes, for example, some members live below the taxable income level. They also grow their own food in an effort to practice sustainability and “living as devoted stewards of God’s Earth.” For the past several decades, members of Agape have participated in nonviolent actions against U.S. wars, the death penalty, and ecological devastation, giving witness to their Christian call.


Sacred Heart by Sarah Fuller

Sarah Fuller’s linocut of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is traditional in its elements – a cross rises out of the heart, which is wrapped in a crown of thorns and surrounded by flames. But the black and white simplicity of this piece avoids the image’s ubiquitous sentimentality, drawing attention to what should be at the center of our own hearts.