Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Sacred Scripture we are presented with the calling for us to deepen our relationship with God, to follow Him and to obey His Law and commandments. We are called to reflect on our lives’ actions and whether they truly proclaim God’s glory and whether we have been faithful in doing what God has commanded and taught us to do in our lives.
In our first reading today, we listened to the words of St. Peter the Apostle reminding the faithful to remain steadfast in their faith, not to be deceived by the words of the false prophets and teachers, that they hold fast to the true and authentic Christian faith and truth as had been taught and revealed to them by the Apostles. Indeed, in time to come, there would be many who spread heresies and falsehoods among the people, causing confusion and division, because these people did not have strong and genuine faith in God.
Many of them put their own human and worldly desires, wants, and ambitions ahead and above their faith and obligation to stay true to that faith in God. They propagated their own ideas and false ways, and in the end, causing division and bitterness among the members of the Church, the faithful people of God. St. Peter therefore in his Epistle today forewarned of what would happen to the faithful community, and reminded them all to keep their faith.
Then in our Gospel passage today we heard about the Lord speaking to the Pharisees, sent by the elders and the teachers of the Law to set Him up and test Him, as the latter group wanted to find a reason to have Christ arrested and sentenced for His ways and teachings which the Jewish elders and the elites found to be unnerving and against their own way and teachings. At that time, the Pharisees used the matter of paying taxes in order to trick the Lord into a seemingly inescapable situation.
Why is that so? That is because no matter what the Lord supported of doing, it would end up hurting Him and His credibility, and through the Pharisees, the elders and the teachers of the Law wanted to use this opportunity as strong evidence against the Lord. At that time, paying of taxes was a topic that could bring about bitter argument, disagreement and violence among the people. Many people at that time despised paying taxes and only did pay grumblingly.
That is because many among the Jewish people did not like being ruled by the Romans, who had recently taken over control of Judea and the surrounding regions. And no one likes to have their incomes taxed and burdened with fees that they have to pay, less still to the so-called conquerors and overlords. That was why at that time, the tax collectors were also often hated and reviled in the society. If the Lord answered that the people ought to pay taxes to the Romans, then the Pharisees could gather strong evidence against Him by the people.
In addition, as the taxes must be paid with the Roman coins, in denarius or sestertius at the time, which were casted with the image of the Roman Emperor, to some among the Jews, it would be tantamount to acknowledgement of the Emperor’s divine status and also a form of idolatry which made the matter even more complicated. Thus, if the Lord had supported the paying of taxes, He could have landed Himself in a very big trouble.
On the other hand, if the Lord had said that the people should not pay the taxes, then the elders could quickly construe that as an act of disobedience and rebellion against the Romans, and as the Romans took acts of treason and disobedience, less still rebellion, very seriously, it could have led to a very adverse and troublesome ending for the Lord and His disciples. But the Lord solved the situation in a very ingenious way that certainly none of His opponents had expected.
He simply said that, ‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God’. This means that the denarius and sestertius coins used in the tax payment indeed belong to man, and since the government decreed it that way, that all the citizens and other people living in the Empire must pay their due to the state and the Emperor then they ought to obey it. And in the same way, if we obey the law of the state and give what the state demands, then we must also obey the Lord and give to Him what He has asked from us.
It is something that all of us ought to discern carefully and consider, whether we have been truly faithful to God or not in our lives. Have we given Him what we should have given Him, our love, our faith, fidelity and obedience, our commitment and dedication? Or have we instead been distracted by various worldly concerns and desires, by the many temptations of life that we end up forgetting our obligations and responsibilities as Christians?
As what St. Peter had reminded the faithful of the need for us to put our faith in God and to stay steadfast in our devotion to Him, this is where we have been called and challenged to do so, in our daily living. And today, we also celebrate the feast of two great saints and martyrs, whose life examples, courage and faith can inspire us to be good Christians on our own. St. Peter, who was named after St. Peter the Apostle, and St. Marcellinus were two renowned martyrs of the Church.
Both of them were known as faithful servants of God who died during the particularly harsh persecution of Christians under the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. St. Peter and St. Marcellinus were faithful to the Lord and even though there was not much known about them, but their life stories and commitment must have been so powerful and moving for many, that their commemoration were widespread and they were respected as faithful servants of God to the very end of their lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to reexamine our lives and how we have lived them all these while. We have our holy and dedicated predecessors, like St. Marcellinus and St. Peter to show us their courage and commitment, that they were willing to suffer and die for their faith amidst the tough and challenging persecutions of their faith by the Roman Emperor and the administration. Let us do our best, in our own lives, to be good servants of God, to be faithful in all things, and at the same time, be good citizens of this world, obeying the rules and laws of the land as long as they do not contradict our Christian Law and commandments.
May the Lord help us and give us the strength needed for us to persevere in faith from now on, following the examples of the saints and martyrs, and become inspirations ourselves for our fellow brothers and sisters. Let us all listen to the Lord, and follow His advice, ‘to give to the world, what belongs to the world, and most importantly, give to God, what belongs to God, that is our hearts, our whole existence, our whole beings.’ May God bless us in our every good endeavours. Amen.