October (21) 22, 2017
29th Sun Ord Time
4:30pm Sat, 8am Sun
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thess 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
The phone rang and the voice on the line said, “Hello, is this Fr. Smith?” “Yes it is”, answered Father. “This is John Jones from the IRS. If you don’t mind, can you answer a few questions?” “Yes I can”, Father answered. “Ok, is there a man named Bill Doe in your parish?” Father answered, “Yes there is.” “Do you know him personally?” “Yes I do.” “Did he recently make a $10,000 donation to the new church?”…“Yes he will!” LOL
And that leads us into our readings for this Sunday. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This is what we heard Jesus say in today’s Gospel. But what did He mean by that? Of course, on the surface it means all of us must pay our taxes to Caesar (state, government) for the common good. And we must pay to God what belongs to God. We will explore the deeper meaning of that in a few minutes…What helps us to understand the true meaning of Jesus’ statement and the message for today is set up for us by the 1st reading from the Prophet Isaiah. In the first reading we heard about Cyrus who the Lord called His “anointed”. Now who was this Cyrus? He was the King of Persia, a foreigner, a non-Jew. He is the only one in all of scripture where a pagan ruler is called “anointed” by the God of Israel. The Lord said about Cyrus, “It is I who grasp him by his right hand, I who subdue nations before him, I who make kings run from him, I who open doors for him.” In other words, it is not by Cyrus’ might or power that he had success, it was because the Lord, the God of all creation. *But then we hear the key verse, the Lord says, “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.”
That is the main message of today’s readings. That there is only one true God and everything is subject to Him and everything belongs to Him. The Gospel helps us understand this point. The last few Sundays Jesus has been “giving it” to the Chief priests and the elders of the people. So in today’s Gospel they decide to try to trap Jesus in getting Him to say something wrong. They send the Herodians who were a group who supported the Roman system of taxation. And the Herodians try to trap Jesus with the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Now this seems like a no-win situation for Jesus because if He answers no do not pay taxes to Caesar then He would be seen as an enemy of Rome and as a rebel. But if He answers yes then He is breaking the Mosaic Law and the 1st Commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” because Caesar considered himself a god. So what is Jesus’ answer? (Show me the money!) “Show me the coin that pays the census tax. Whose image is on it?” And they reply, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus came back with His classic answer, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” In other words Jesus is saying, “Give back to Caesar his idolatrous coin (the coin with the image of a false god on it) and give to God His due.” Jesus reasserts His sovereignty over all earthly powers and over all things. He affirms the words of Isaiah, “I am the Lord, there is no other.”
But as always we must discern what this means for us today. If we really and truly believe that our God is sovereign over all things including our hearts and that we are to give God what belongs to Him, what does that mean for us? What is our response? You see, in the old covenant God’s people believed that everything belonged to God by the very nature of creation. They believed that God protected them and provided everything for them. And because of their covenant with Him they were to give God sovereignty in their lives (as King), give God the worship He deserves, serve Him and give back a portion of their blessings in thanksgiving to Him. *The new covenant in Christ which we are a part of through our Baptism & faith is no different. Because we believe there is no God but our God and that He deserves His due…He deserves our best. We are expected to respond in giving God His due with a grateful heart. That means we come to Mass every Sunday not grudgingly but with a grateful heart, joyful and excited to encounter God where we worship Him and receive Him. That means we offer Him time in private prayer and meditation on His Word. It means we use the gifts we have been given to edify the Body of Christ. It means we joyfully and willingly bless the Church and the less fortunate with a portion of our treasure. We do these things because of what Jesus commanded, “Give to God what belongs to God.” And we do these things because of the truth spoken through Isaiah, “I am the Lord, there is no other.” And most of all we do these things in response to God’s love.
But when we do not do things when we do not live these things there is a problem. When God is not sovereign in our hearts and our lives, when we do not give Him His due, when we do not offer Him our best and our first…then there are false gods in our lives that we are serving and worshipping (me too). Maybe our gods are ourselves (pride), our bank account or material things, or any other number of things that have priority over the one true God. Whatever is more important than God in our lives is a false god. They are the Caesars in our lives…In the Gospel Jesus called the ones trying to trap Him “hypocrites”. The original meaning of the word hypocrite is “actor” or “one playing a part in a play.” Jesus called the so-called religious “hypocrites” because although they seemed religious on the outside, on the inside they lacked true love of God and love of neighbor. They lacked true religion. They lacked a true and real relationship with the creator of all things. We do not want to be called a hypocrite or an actor by the Lord do we? We certainly do not want to be called a hypocrite on the Day of Judgment!
The proof that God is sovereign in our hearts and our lives is in today’s 2nd reading where St. Paul speaks of the true Christians in Thessalonica recalling their “work of faith, labor of love and endurance in hope.” When we live the virtues of faith, hope and love then God is sovereign in our lives. “Endurance in hope” meaning we continue to place all our hope and dreams in the God of gods and the King of kings. “Work of faith” meaning we struggle every day but believe that Jesus is with us and will pull us through. And “labor of love” meaning we sacrifice for our God and for His people with the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
So in closing, when we place Jesus Christ on the throne of our hearts and keep Him there, when we serve Him and offer Him His due (our very best), when we live in faith, hope and love, then yes we can say we are not hypocrites but we are true disciples of the living, the one true God. And when we do this we will be like Cyrus (God’s anointed) successful and blessed because God grasps us by the right hand and opens doors for us…Who would not want to have Him as King and Lord, who is all-powerful, all-loving, compassionate & merciful and who provides for our every need? Why would you not?
This is the Gospel and as St. Paul said at the end of the 2nd reading, “It did not come to you in word alone, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”
To me and to you Jesus says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Amen!