Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time| Year A
The Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s ‘ they replied. He then said to them, ‘Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’
The Pharisees got one thing right about Jesus when they set out to trap him over the question of paying Roman taxes. “You are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you,” they said to him.
Rank meant everything to the Pharisees, because it fed their egos and gave them power over others in the society of their time. Jesus’ refusal to bow down before them or to treat them with deference made them see him as a threat to their power.
Our upbringing may have led us to believe that great deference should be given to certain people. There may be an element of fear involved if we perceive that certain people have power over us because of their rank or status in our culture or society. We may even allow ourselves to be led by them or ordered to do certain things. These circumstances may feed a sense of inferiority which is quite at variance with our human dignity.
If we have a strong desire to achieve rank or status, we may indulge in behaviours that are at odds with our Christian calling. In these circumstances others may be perceived as inferior and available to be used to achieve our own ends.
If we are in either of these situations, some thought needs to be given to how to chart a new path in our lives. Jesus calls us to do good works because that is a natural expression of our love for him and for others. It is how he works in the world. He does not call us to achieve great rank or status, nor has he decreed that we are to be subservient to others.
Truly great people, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta was, become so because their love for Jesus and for others enables them to see the human dignity inherent in every person, and they respond with extraordinary service.
We need to understand to understand our own human dignity. We are loved by God, brought into existence by him, and not ranked in his eyes. Why should we let rank or status – ours or that of others - rule our lives?