Sunday Sermon for October 19, 2014, the Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6; Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21
In the Gospel reading today our Lord confounds the Pharisees and the Herodians by telling them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give to God what is God’s. It was somewhat simple to point out what belonged to Caesar because his image and his inscription were on the coin. One could argue about whether or not Caesar had the right to anything else or even how much of the money was rightfully his just because his face was on it.
It is equally simple to discern, using the same parameters, what belongs to God. All we need to do is look at what bears His image and His inscription. In the first chapter of the Bible we read that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God. So, we not only bear the image of the Creator, we are the image of the Creator. Also, God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah that He would write His law in our hearts and in our minds. So, both His image and His inscription can be found in each and every human person.
Tragically, there are many people who do not know these truths. The fact that they are ignorant of these truths does not make them any less true. When we read the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading today we can apply what he says to each person who does not know their dignity as a person made in the image and likeness of God. The Lord says to Cyrus, the pagan emperor, that the Lord has called Cyrus and given him a title, although Cyrus did not know the Lord.
The difference between us and those who do not know their dignity is, as St. Paul says in the second reading, that we know how we were chosen; that the Gospel was not a matter of words only, but that it came to us in power and with the Holy Spirit and much conviction. Sadly, there are many among the baptized who do not know these things and cannot apply them to themselves. For those of us who have accepted the truth as God has revealed it and as the Church teaches it, we not only have an obligation to live according to that truth, but also to pray for those who do not know it.
Somewhere along the line the Lord revealed Himself to Cyrus and the emperor ordered that the Jews would be released from exile and be returned to their own country. Like Cyrus, too many people do not know the Lord and they do not realize that everything they have comes from Him. We want them to know the Lord so that they can know their own dignity and respond accordingly. In other words, we want them to give to God what is God’s.
We still have not stated clearly what we are to give to God. I think it is obvious that if we are the image of God and bear His inscription that what belongs to God is our very self. The idea of God claiming a right to our own self chaffs against our sense of autonomy and pride. Does God have the right to demand something from us? Can He expect from us everything because we bear His image? Are there limitations to what He can expect or demand?
While we could argue that God has a right, we must also recognize that God made us with a free will which He will never violate. Therefore, He will never demand that we give ourselves to Him. Instead, we have to make a free choice to give to God that which is His image and bears His inscription. This is why our Lord told us that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength.
Notice that we are not instructed merely to love God, but to love Him with our ALL. This makes sense because our entire being is made in His image and likeness. Therefore, if we are to give to God what is God’s that means use our free will to choose to give ourselves to Him. This does not violate our dignity; it fulfills our dignity. If we love with our whole being, that means that there is nothing selfish. It is the selfishness that violates our dignity.
Our Lord told us that the second commandment is to love our neighbor. This means that we want what is truly best for those around us. Like ourselves, what is best is that they recognize their dignity as persons and love God with all their being. This completes human dignity, corresponds with human freedom and renders to God what is God’s.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.