Reading the whole Chapters from which today's Readings are taken puts "in context", plus there is a sort of family Bible Study Group in the home for next Sunday's Readings.
Isaiah, together with Jeremiah, Hosea and Micah, are among my favorite Old Testament Prophets. Isaiah today is quite powerful. But what he says shows that the world of the Prophets was not so different from our 21st century.
I am the Lord. There is no other. There is no god besides me. God clearly insists on being the one and only God. All other gods, idols or values are false and do not exist. John Paul II and Benedict XVI decry the loss of "God", especially in Europe but also expanding to other parts of the earth. Their teaching is concerned with a growing "secularism" in Europe (the cradle of Christianity). This "secularism" is the loss of awe of Isaiah's "I am the Lord. There is no other. There is no god besides me". These Popes point out clearly that Europe has created new "idols" to take the place of our God. These "idols" do not allow the influence of the "True God" in our values and daily life.
The "idols" or "new gods" being created in our very day and age include:
1. Deep skepticism of the very possibility an eternal spiritual being because "Science" cannot prove it.
2. A focus on gathering material goods which take the place of a personal God.
3. A lack on focus on the needs of others which as we shall see in the Gospel of Matthew
is one of two Commandments on which the whole (Jewish) Law and the Prophets depend.
These Popes point out that this "secularism" is fast becoming a part of other parts of Western Civilization as well.
The Chapter of Matthew from which today's Reading contains two attempts by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into positions which they expect to use against Him. The Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful to pay the "Census tax" to the Romans. These taxes were imposed by the Romans and they were hated by the Jewish people.
The Jewish people believed that God had commanded them to offer the "first fruits" of their plants and the "first-born" of their animals. Of children, the "first born" belonged to God; but could be redeemed by a sacrifice of a sheep or a goat without blemish. If families could not afford that sacrifice, as Joseph and Mary could not, the offering of two doves was acceptable. Two doves were then what Joseph and Mary could offer for Jesus, their "first-born". In addition to this, the Jewish people were to support the Temple and the nation by offering "tithes" (ten percent of their earnings) and other sacrifices. But now they were being forced to pay in addition a secular tax to the Romans, namely the "Census tax".
The trap is that if Jesus says "no", they will charge Him of being against the Romans. If He says "yes", He will be hated by the Jewish people. Jesus simply asks for the Roman coin with Caesar's image which was to be used to pay the tax. His simple answer was to "repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
Applied to today, Jesus tells us that we follow His teaching by paying taxes we owe to secular authorities, even though they are imposed on us. Jesus does not deal with the source or the fairness of the tax. He just separates taxes due to a society from offerings to be made to the Church.
Further on in this same Chapter of Matthew, the Pharisees try again to trick Jesus. One of them, a Scribe, who should know the answer from his own knowledge of the Jewish Law, asks: "Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?"
But Jesus simply quotes back to him the Jewish Law itself, saying:
"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment."
"The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Then He strengthens this further by emphasizing that:
"The whole Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments."
In short, we cannot just love God and hope to be saved. Yet this was the way we generally learned our Faith until roughly Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II. Everything was basically "Save your soul" by prayer, attending Mass, supporting our Parish, making use of Devotions and the Rosary and obedience. It was a very "individualistic" approach to Religion.
Jesus points out that deep in the Jewish religion there is a second commandment of equal importance that we "love our neighbor as ourselves". Every single teaching or command of God finds its roots in these two simple commandments. Ever since Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical "Rerum Novarum" of 1891 defended the right to private property with restrictions, as well as the right to join Unions, Catholic teach on issues of Social Justice have been developing along the lines of "loving our neighbor as ourselves". Each issue dealing with Charity and Justice has been treated as they come up. Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and the present Pope has seen what is now called the Church's "Preferential Option for the Poor" as the primary way to fulfill this Second Commandment. Prayer, the Eucharist and other Sacraments, Devotions and so on are still necessary. But Social Justice must take a primary way of following the Commandments of God.