FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 | Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5B | Matthew 22:15-21
As we delve into the readings for this Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we come to the realization that God is the true ruler over all the world.
Back in the 70s for the World Day of Peace, Pope Paul VI wrote what we call the Peace Day Message. In that message, he reflects at one point on the incredible evil of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he calls that a butchery of untold magnitude, this total destruction of two whole cities and all of their people. Then he says, "Who is the model for our time?" In the midst of this kind of violence, this kind of killing that you can describe as a butchery of untold magnitude, who is the model? Do you know who Pope Paul VI names? Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, not a Christian. There is the model for our time because God is acting through Gandhi. Gandhi shows us the way that Jesus would reject violence, killing, brutality and butchery. God acts through everyone and everything. God has to be present in every aspect of our lives.
In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies the reign of Cyrus of Persia over the Kingdom of Judah, more than 100 years before it takes place. God will use Cyrus of Persia, a heathen ruler, to carry out His divine plan for Israel. After Cyrus conquers Babylon, he will not only allow the Jewish captives to return to their homeland, but also finance the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Although Cyrus was not aware of it, the one and only God of Israel was the one who ultimately enabled him to subdue the nations before him and to accomplish all that he accomplished. He had no relationship with God at all. Still, God let circumstances fall in this Gentile leader's favor so that He could answer His people's prayers while revealing His own power in an even greater way. What message does this convey to all of us? No matter how godless our government may become, we must, like the Jews in exile, pray that God will still accomplish His will in our nation and in the world.
Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life" has sold millions of copies, and transformed millions of people and churches across the world. Instinctively, most people want to know: What is my purpose? How can I be more fulfilled? What a shock to open this best-selling book and read the first sentence: “It’s not about you!” And it’s not about you. Though Jesus is intently interested in you, and loves you more than can be described, he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and is worthy of our worship. We have been created to worship him, not the other way around.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul teaches that they have become part of God’s chosen people because the word of the Gospel preached by him was not mere human words but was filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. His preaching was effective because God’s Spirit was at work. The life of the Church comes from its intimate connection to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul's time, the emperor was referred to as Lord. Paul's claim is that Jesus, not the emperor, is Lord.
We know little about the Herodians. Their name implies that they are supporters of King Herod Antipas and collaborators with the Roman conquerors. That puts them in conflict with the Pharisees, whose relationship with Herod is less comfortable and who share the general resentment against the Roman taxation. The Pharisees and Herodians are brought together, in this instance, by their opposition to Jesus. In our Gospel, they put Jesus on the spot in front of the crowd. They asked him a question bound to get him into trouble one way or the other. Do you honor Cesar, and then dishonor God, or do you honor God and face the wrath of Cesar? Either way Jesus' potential answer was to alienate one group or another. But here we notice that our Lord is not interested in pleasing either group, but only God!
I used to work near Greenbelt and Glorietta Malls in Makati. One day, I stalled into a department store to buy a shirt. Not a fancy silk or diamond studded shirt—just plain cotton collared shirt. As I pulled one from the rack, I noticed the price tag and thought to myself that it must be mis-marked. So I pulled another only to find the same price on the tag. Incredulous, I approached the saleslady to question the exorbitant price—P5,553.19! The saleslady told me the price was correct—P5,553.19 was the “special” sale price! I began to question what could possibly be so special about this shirt to warrant such a value. “Am I going to be healed of some disease when I put this on? Am I going to get some kind of super-power?” “It’s the designer’s name on it that adds value to it,” she replied. Do you know how valuable you are because of whose name is on you? Do you understand that your worth and value comes from whose name is on you? God’s image is stitched in your genes. We belong to God.
An interesting detail in his answer is the fact the Jesus' reply is prompted by the emperor's image being carved in the coin. Caesar’s image provides graphic evidence that it was Caesar who created the coin—and that the coin is inextricably linked to Caesar and his empire. It is therefore an integral part of Caesar’s realm, and should be thought of as belonging to Caesar. This means that we must pay what we owe our country, striving to act as model citizens, and following the rule of law as much as our conscience allows. While Jesus' answer acknowledges our obligation to the state, he affirms our larger obligation to God. We must strive to live holy, Christian lives, giving God what we owe Him. If we recall the Genesis narrative (1:26), we are reminded that God created us in his image, in his image he created us. We are reminded that we bear God's image in ourselves. If we bear God's image, we belong to God and we must give back to God what belongs to God. We are called to return ourselves to God, whose image we bear, and to help others to return themselves to God, whose image and inscription they also bear. In what ways have you given to God what belongs to God? In what ways have you failed? If Caesar deserves our support, God deserves our full devotion. We belong to God.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum