Twenty Ninth Sunday October 19, 2008

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6   1 Thessalonians 1:1-5   Matthew 22:15-21

Today is the Mission Sunday and we pray for the Missions and the missionaries in our Country India and the world. We particularly pray for the people of Orissa, Karnataka and other places where there is much suffering to the Christian community.

In the First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, the Lord God addresses His anointed one.  The Lord speaks of His almighty power. History shows that by His infinite power, nations had been subdued and kings stripped of their robes. Doors had been opened for His anointed one and the gates shall not be closed. The Lord God says further that for the sake of those He loved, His servant Jacob and Israel His chosen, He calls us all by our names. To call one by name means to take possession of him.  Though we do not know Him fully, he chooses to know us well.  It is just awesome to think that God remembers each and everyone of our names, knowing us personally. Then, the Lord God goes further to say that He is the Lord and there is no other God beside Him. We belong to Him and we are his possessions. He wants us and showers his blessings on us. How numerous are His Divine blessings for each and every one of us!

In the Second Reading we learn from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, more about the greatness of God.  Paul expresses gratitude to God in prayer for all the blessings that the Thessalonians had received. He mentioned their work of faith, their labour of love and their steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ. The labour of love is a reflection of active charity. As such, the prayer of thanksgiving to God embraces the virtues of faith, hope and charity that had been bestowed upon them. He tells the community that what really has transformed them is the “power” of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel we see the confrontation of Jesus with his audience.  The situation is that Jesus is close to Jerusalem and it is the place of the cross.  He was the teacher, preacher, miracle worker and a person publicly admired.  Today’s reading gives the first of the four challenges he faces and the way the Jews want to discredit Jesus. The first challenge comes from the Pharisees. They do not come directly but in a devious way send a delegation which is a mixture of their disciples and some Herodians those faithful to the Roman Rule.  It was a strange mixture because Pharisees and Herodians were bitterly opposed to each other. The Pharisees were nationalists and totally anti-Roman, seeking the liberation.  The Herodians were loyal to Rome but for their own gain. We can notice their flattery in the conversation, cleverly disguised referring to the honesty and integrity of Jesus. They speak of his sincerity and impartiality which was true. After these they put the question: “Is it against our Law to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In fact, this seemingly simple innocent question turned on a burning issue. Palestine was a colony of Rome, kept in control and had little freedom. There was hatred towards the Romans for their cruelty, corruption and brutality. They in fact were averse to pay taxes.  Taxes  were like robbery for them. On the contrary, the other group was content with the Roman Rule. Certainly it was a tricky question, for if Jesus said taxes should not be paid, he would have pleased the Pharisees and they would have him arrested. The payment of tax meant support to Rome and Jesus would lose all credibility with his own people. Any reply could place Jesus into trouble.

Jesus accepts the challenge.  In response to the query, Jesus asks them to show him a coin. He asks to know whose image and what is the inscription on it. The head was that of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor of the day. The inscription would have read, “Tiberius Caesar son of the divine Augustus, great high priest”. The right to mint a coin proved sovereignty of a king. The Roman Government minted their own coins and jealously guarded this sovereignty, making it an act of rebellion to mint any coins other than under the Roman authority. The coin also claimed the divine attributes of Caesar.  Jesus responds to them wisely with his famous answer, “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God.” The answer in other words indicates to say that they own nothing. Their possessions belong to some one else.  They have to do the work of restitution. They have benefitted from the Government as we do today and more so from God in whose image each one is created. As Jesus says, they both require certain loyalties from us and they return what belongs to the other.

In the Book of Genesis we read that man was created in the image of God.   Belonging to God, we are called to become in His image.  This is God’s gift to us.  Through his disobedience man lost that original image and now wishes to restore the very same image through his son Jesus. That is why God gave us so many gifts and blessings. That is why Christ died for us. That is why we are being transformed into the image of Christ through faith, hope and charity. We are called to actively maintain our gifts by living our faith in Christ. We are called to give to God what belongs to God

Today’s Gospel makes it very clear that we have two responsibilities: to the government of our country or territory and to God. Where both are in harmony there will be no conflict. Wherever there is immoral or unjust behaviour against people’s dignity and rights, then there is bound to be conflict. Such conflict is not always bad. On the contrary, it is because of creative conflict that our society makes progress.  Thus the message for us is to appreciate what God has given us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called upon to preserve our gifts and blessings with all our souls, our minds, our spirits, our hearts and our strength. In the Most Holy Name of Jesus, let us keep these gifts pure and stainless and one day, when we will appear before the Lord God, we will proudly give Him back what He gave us. Then, we will rightfully inherit the assurance of our salvation, Amen.

(for Mission Sunday homily kindly go to the archives)

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