Sunday Sermon for October 22, 2023, the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God.  Two thousand years later, Caesar still seems to think that an awful lot belongs to him!  Throughout the world governments are getting larger.  Not only are they taking over more and more of people’s lives on the macro scale, but they are intruding deeper into our lives and trying to control even the smallest aspects of our lives.  If we are to give to Caesar what belongs to him, we need to know what really belongs to him and what he is claiming falsely to be his own.

As with any leadership position, those in government are given authority over the people.  Remember, authority is given to serve; power is about forcing others to serve you.  With this authority, those entrusted to lead can pass laws, approve the creation of money, and establish policies for the good of society.  It is because of the authority to create money that our Lord, while pointing to the face on the Roman coin, states that the coin belongs to Caesar.

However, we must ask the question of how Caesar gains his position.  In some countries leaders are elected, in others it is passed down through the family line, some are appointed by a ruling body, while still others use violence or force to usurp their position.  Regardless of how a person achieves a position, it becomes clear from the first reading that it is God Who places the person in the position.

We know that everything is part of God’s providence, which means nothing happens merely by chance.  God gave us a free will, so He will not force us to do anything including our choice to use our free will against Him.  This means that God does not will that we sin, but He allows us to use our free will, even if that use is directly contrary to what He intended.  This is why God allows some very evil people to be placed in positions of authority.  Unfortunately, these people usually use the position to exercise power.

God also allows some very unfortunate people to be put in important positions for two other reasons.  First, because of our sins.  God will use these people who give themselves over to doing evil as a mirror for the rest of us.  In other words, these people are like an embodiment of our sins.  If a society turns from God and from goodness, bad people are often raised up with the hope that people will reject the evil they see in their leaders and in so doing, they will reject the evil in their own lives.

Second, God allows these people to be put in place as a means of helping us to grow in virtue.  This is an offshoot of what we just mentioned about rejecting the evil in our own lives.  In this case, the temptation is to go along with the program of a bad leader in order to fit in or to be promoted.  Either way, this is all motivated by selfishness.  On the other hand, if we choose to persevere in goodness rather than succumb to the evil around us, we grow profoundly in virtue.  If our motive is love of God and neighbor, we also grow profoundly in holiness.

Because these people are chosen by God even if, like King Cyrus in the first reading, they do not even know God, they must render to God what is God’s.  Those who turn a position of authority into a position of power are not only abusing the position, but they make themselves into something of a god with power over many aspects of the lives of those under their authority. 

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we received the Gospel “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”  We must first ask if this is true in our lives.  If not, we must pray for this grace of a deeper conversion to happen.  We need to recognize that all authority is intended to be a participation in God’s authority.  This is true for parents in families, people in positions of supervision in the workplace, those in governmental positions, and those appointed shepherds for our souls within the Church. 

Each of us needs to pray for the grace to act in our own positions according to God’s holy will.  At the same time, as a matter of justice, we must give what is right and proper to each person in authority over us.  Give to Caesar what rightly belongs to him, but above all, recognize God’s absolute authority over us and give to God what rightly belongs to God!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit