This Sunday, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, at the back of our St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno Nevada, Father Francisco discussed the Gospel reading where Jesus commented, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” We compared this passage with the story of Legion in the Gospel of St. Mark 5:1-20. Jesus encounters a man who identifies as Legion as he has a legion of spirits within him. The problem is that Legion is a Latin name. A Mishuganah, Hebrew for crazy person would name himself Arbah, for “Many” or, if Hellenized, “Hoi Pauloi.”
Legion refers to the Roman legions. The question in the story of Legion, is how to rid ourselves of the Roman legions. Legion asks Jesus to allow them to enter the swine. Jesus agrees and Legion soon drowns in the sea, just what they Jews want to happen to the Roman legions.
The pig herders complain of their loss of pigs, not kosher to eat or own in Semitic society. The lesson of the story is that if we want to rid ourselves of Rome, big government, we must rid ourselves of our pigs, everything making us impure and unfit for God. We must see that our neighbor, regardless of what he may of done or might do is more important than our stuff. Out of fear, the pig herders demand Jesus to leave.
We read the story of giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. As Father Francisco pointed out, when Jesus asks for a Roman coin, the Jewish leadership has no problem providing one. They complain to God about Roman occupation, but they are co-dependent upon Rome, as seen by their ability to find the Roman coin. It is their currency of choice. They also like the Roman baths fed by the Roman aqueducts, and they like using the Roman roads. They also like Roman trade provided by the Roman fleet and the goods coming from that trade.
Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” That means returning all of the Roman coin and not depending upon Rome as a source of trade, or of culture. They must give up their pigs/the-Roman lifestyle. The leadership/ the pig herders, demand Jesus leave, upon a cross.
What of us? Are we any different from the Pharisees/the Separate Ones, or Sadducees/ the Charitable Ones, at least in their own eyes? These were the aristocrats, the proper people of their day. We complain of big government. Do we depend upon it? What of our roads and bridges? Do we depend upon big government to protect us from the big bad guys over there and over here, and the trade federal government treatise bring our way?
Do we complain of big government protecting us from our employees as we exploit them with low wages? Do we pay less than a just wage complaining about the already too low federal minimum wage law? Do we try to cut safety corners as at the Deep Water Horizon while we complain about OSHA?
Do we pollute God’s planet? It is his planet. Do we complain about the environmental regulations in place, designed to protect God’s planet, cursing the liberals for wanting to protect God’s planet? Do we equate protecting the image of God in our neighbor and protecting God’s planet, as a society, and through our government as socialism, something to avoid?
Who is more important, Legion, the naked man/homeless and poor, living in our cemeteries, or our pigs, the dirty industry we use to create profits, hoarding Caesar’s coin? That is what the passages ask us. So, what is our answer?