29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A – October 19th, 2014
- First Reading: Isaiah 45:1,4-6
- Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
- Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
CLICK HERE for link to audio from 9am Mass
Today we continue a sequence of Gospels that find Jesus being questioned by those who will ultimately put him to death. Jesus, knowing what was in their hearts but loving them anyway, chose to try and teach them a lesson rather than ignoring or humiliating them. And that lesson is as valid today as it was twenty centuries ago: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.
Jesus is telling us that every Christian holds dual citizenship. Our physical birth made us citizens of an earthly nation. Our spiritual birth that took place in the waters of baptism made us citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. Sometimes these kingdoms overlap. But in the end, our earthly citizenship will come to an end while our heavenly citizenship will last forever. Throughout the ages, many saints and martyrs have taught us that any time we are forced to choose between the two; any time Caesar tries to take what belongs to God, we must be faithful to our everlasting homeland, even if it means suffering painful consequences here on earth.
But as often as possible, Jesus reminds us that we need to responsibly live out both of these citizenships. We don’t thumb our nose at Caeser, who does have his rightful place. Knowing our citizenship in heaven trumps our citizenship on earth, how do we exercise both of these responsibly?
We have an election coming up. I don’t know about you, but the mute button on my TV is begging for mercy. The second one of those political commercials comes on, we dive for the remote, “Hit the mute button!” Oh, if only the election could be tomorrow. We laugh, but those commercials are a reminder that as members of the Church we are obliged to participate responsibly in shaping the moral character of our society. We are called not only to help maintain a civil society, but also to help improve it, to help build up a civilization of Christian justice and love.
In democratic societies like ours, we have a unique opportunity to do this by making good use of the many conversations that happen in election years; conversations about social virtues and values. Many of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors want to make the right decisions in the voting booth, but don’t understand the difference between foundational and secondary issues. They’re hungry for the truth on these complicated matters. As followers of Christ, we are called to feed the hungry, to let our light shine before others. Studies have repeatedly shown that the single biggest factor in how people vote is not mass media, but information they get from friends and colleagues. In our social conversations at work, at gatherings of our friends, we should never be afraid to explain our point of view based on the beauty and truth of the Church’s teachings. We are disciples of Jesus and we have something important, something crucial to contribute to these conversations!
Several years ago the Bishops published a wonderful document to assist all of us in understanding how we effectively and faithfully participate in the political process. The document is called Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (Click here for a two page summary version). In the bulletin, Adrienne is running significant excerpts from this document several weeks in a row – including this week. In the Wednesday Wisdom E-mail that I hope many of you receive, Brenda sent a link to a two page summary of this document and I highly encourage everyone to spend time between now and the election reading and digesting that document. Participating in being good citizens is not an optional component of who we are as Jesus’ disciples.
As I said in the beginning, we are also citizens of the heavenly realm – so we must render unto God what is God’s. And exactly what does belong to God? We know the answer to this question. It’s written in the very first pages of the Bible. All that we are, all that we possess, and all that we can ever hope for has its origins in God. Just as the Roman coin bore the image of the Emperor who made it, so we are made in the image and likeness of the one who created us and who loves us.
God called each one of us into existence; but not just to exist. God created us so that we could be in relationship with him; so that we could learn to love him as he has always loved us. This is the whole purpose of our lives: to abide in communion with God. The Catechism puts it this way in paragraph #44, “Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.” Freely living by our bond with God means living as he created us to live. And he has shown us how to do that by sending us his Son, the model of every Christian life, the Friend of every human soul.
And so, giving to God what belongs to God means obeying his commandments, following the example of Christ, our Lord and Savior and heeding the teachings of his Church. And we do this, NOT because we are following some ancient set of rules that have no relevance to our modern lives. No! We do this because we know that God loves us; wants the absolute best for us; longs for us to be the best version of ourselves; and desires that we become all that he created us to be. And we do all of this be because in following the commandments, in following the example of Christ, in heeding the teachings of his Church, we are confident that we are living in the center of God’s will for our lives.
Let me ask you a question. If you were arrested later this week and accused of being a Christian, a citizen of this world AND the heavenly realm, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Think about that? Would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Could people say they heard you speak up and defend the teachings of Christ and his Church in those office and social conversations? Or would they say you sort of smiled, nodded your head and said nothing. Would they say they saw you at Habitat Builds, or taking St. Vincent DePaul food vouchers to those in need? Would they say they saw you in the adoration chapel on a regular basis? Would they say you responded to the call for adult disciples to lead our Children’s Liturgy of the Word services or our CCD classes? Would they have seen you at a BUILD event as the faith community here in Lexington works to hold our leaders accountable to making Lexington a city of justice for all? Would they have seen you praying in front of the local abortion clinic; being a witness to life? What evidence would there be to convict you of being a disciple of Jesus?
So we are indeed citizens of the world and more importantly of the heavenly realm. Yes, we owe to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But God claims us as his own and we are the coins that bear his image. So most certainly, we owe everything to God. Everything! And when we begin to live in the center of God’s will for us, my brothers and sisters, get ready! Because then we will experience true joy and the peace that is beyond all understanding.