29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
In 1961, American author Joseph Heller wrote a war novel entitled “Catch 22.” Because of its popularity, it was made into a movie that was released in 1970. By 1971, the title of the book and subsequent film adaptation was so commonly and frequently used that it made its way into Webster’s Dictionary. Among several rather complicated definitions of the expression is this: A hidden difficulty or means of entrapment. Synonyms for “Catch 22” include words such as “booby trap,” “gotcha,” and “landmine.”
In Matt 22, we see Jewish religious leaders trying hard to push Jesus into the very center of a deadly “Catch 22.” Either way, had He answered their seemingly simple question with a very simple “yes” or “no,” He would have found Himself guilty of a capital offense punishable by death.
If Jesus had said: “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to this foreign power because the coin with which the tax has to be paid declares that the Emperor is a god, and to acknowledge that to be true is blasphemy”…then the Romans would have accused Him of treason and sedition. On the other hand, had He responded: “Yes, citizens have an obligation to pay taxes to support the common good”…then the Jewish religious leaders would have accused Him of blasphemy by acknowledging the Emperor as a god. On the spot, they would most likely have done what they ultimately did on Good Friday…incite the crowd, which might well have stoned Jesus. There was a definite hidden difficulty here and a classic example of “Catch 22”…their win-win would be a lose-lose for Jesus, or so they thought.
If a Catch 22 is anything which the effect is the opposite of what is intended, it was the Pharisees who got caught in their own trap. The landmine they buried in the question they posed to Jesus blew up in their faces. Their treachery and hypocrisy, which they did their best to conceal, was made visible. Moreover, through this exchange, Jesus’s unparalleled wisdom came to light. Jesus tells us: “For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light.” (Mk 4:22) That’s what happened here.
The confrontation concludes with The Lord’s often quoted reply: “Then render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This invites a good deal of reflection on our duty as citizens. There is no denying that we reside in overlapping kingdoms…The Kingdom of God and the orders of civil authority. And we know as well that civil authority imposes and enforces duties and obligations on the part of citizenry, to which obedience is expected.
Even in a democracy such as we are blessed to live under here in the USA, there are times when God’s Law and civil authority not only overlap but clash. In the complex times in which we live, this seems to be happening much more frequently and in the most unexpected areas of our lives. We Christians must be conscious of these conflict situations and raise our voices to ensure just civil laws that are in keeping with God’s will and God’s ways.
But it might be good to zoom in on this whole idea of “Catch 22” and apply it to something smaller than the conflicts that arise between Church and state. Ask yourself: How often do I owe God something, but at the same time, convince myself that for whatever reason, I am legitimately entitled to withhold payment? Almost daily, we make choices in which there are hidden difficulties that threaten to entrap us. When this occurs, it’s oftentimes a struggle to break free of the habit, addiction, attitude or false belief that was hidden within what seemed like a simple choice: Yes or No? All too often, we make a choice, the effect of which is the direct opposite of what we SHOULD intend…almost oblivious to the dire consequences. We need to learn to walk cautiously through life because there are booby traps and landmines every step of the way…and when they blow, our spiritual health and happiness are at risk. GOTCHA! is not a word you want to hear.
Through the Lord dealing with a Catch 22 situation, the fact that Jesus is indeed The Way, The Truth, and The Life comes to light! If we do our very best to LIVE JESUS, at the end of our dangerous journey through this world, He will be the One to speak that word: GOTCHA!Gotcha!