Memorial of St. Justin, Martyr
The Pharisees and the Herodians make strange bedfellows. As the saying goes, however, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I would guess that they teamed up to catch Jesus on either side of an issue. For the Pharisees, Roman coinage was unclean because it bore the image of man (hence moneychangers in the Temple). The Herodians approved of the tax because the Romans appointed the puppet kings and gave Judea a certain level of autonomy. If the Lord opposed the former he could be denounced as sacrilegious, and if he opposed the latter he could be marked as a revolutionary.
Jesus deftly sidesteps the question to do what he often does: take the issue back to its origins. In the beginning man and woman were made in the image and likeness of God. When sin entered the human story, we rejected God and asked for a king. St. Paul will say that God can use secular rulers to fulfill God’s will, like Cyrus. So a Christian must live in the world but not be of it. You give your whole self back to God and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
It is a fitting gospel for St. Justin (d. 165), one of the Church’s first apologists. He was trained in Greek philosophy but found the Truth in the Word made flesh. He explained to the reason-seeking pagan authorities that Christians were not cannibals, but that we believe what looks like bread and wine to be the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. Ultimately his description of the Eucharistic celebration was not enough and he was martyred for the faith. Like Tobit who suffers indignities despite acting justly (bird-dirt in his eyes blind him), he trusted that sometimes things get worse before they get better. The enemies of religion do not need reasons, they will do what they must. So we fear no men because only one judgment counts. May we render back to our merciful Lord a life in likeness to His.
Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB