Sunday Sermon for October 22, 2017, the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A
Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21
In the Gospel reading today the Pharisees and the Herodians, who would normally be bitter enemies, found a common enemy and teamed up to trap Him. Although they acknowledged that our Lord taught the way of God in accordance with the truth and was not concerned about anyone’s opinion, they wanted to discredit Him before the people. So, after their words of flattery, they asked Him if it was lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar, something to which the Jewish people would have been opposed.
But our Lord surprised them! He called them hypocrites and asked to see the Roman coin used to pay the tax. Looking at the coin with Caesar’s face and inscription, Jesus told them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but to give to God what belongs to God. It is interesting how, in this one statement, our Lord challenged both groups who had come to Him. The Jewish people were to give Caesar what was due to Caesar, while the secular Herodians had to give God what was due to Him.
In our day many people claim they do not know the Lord or believe in Him, so they see no reason to give Him anything. The Herodians would have said something similar, but Jesus did not accept this false claim. In the first reading today God speaks through the Prophet Isaiah regarding this exact point. Addressing Cyrus, a pagan who became king of Persia after the fall of Babylon, the Lord tells Cyrus that He gave him a title “though you knew me not,” and it was He Who armed Cyrus, “though you know me not.” God raised up Cyrus, He says, so that all people will know there is no other God than Him.
We know from history that God raised up Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and allow the Israelite people who were exiled in Babylon to return home. We do not know exactly what happened, but somehow God made it clear to Cyrus that he was charged to build a Temple in Jerusalem. The land of Israel was void of the Hebrew people and the Jews were scattered among the Babylonians. Moreover, the Israelites had been in exile for more than two generations, so in Cyrus’ lifetime he had never heard of the Jewish people. Even so, God still made His point in a way Cyrus could not mistake: there is only one true God. God had chosen the Jewish people for Himself and true worship was to take place only in Jerusalem in a Temple dedicated to the one true God.
Nothing has changed: it is still the Lord Who gives authority to whom He wills. Certainly, one can say the devil and those in league with Him seem to be pretty powerful and given a lot of latitude. However, nothing happens without the Lord’s knowledge and will. Leaders who do evil are allowed to have authority for two reasons: first, because the people have given themselves over to wrongdoing so God allows someone like them in order that the people might see the evil they are doing and repent. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the people often follow the corrupt leader and do worse than what they had been doing.
The second reason is to test and purify those who are resolved to remain faithful. It is easy to go through the motions, making the practice of the Faith more of a social obligation. In such cases there is often not a lot of faith, so it is not lived during the week. When someone is determined to grow in holiness and serve the Lord, God will allow that person to be purified in order to be strengthened in their resolve, to learn to do God’s will even when it is not socially acceptable, and to make their faith central to their life so that it is lived out all day, every day.
This is what we hear in the second reading when St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of their work of faith, their labor of love, and their endurance in hope. He reminds them that their call was not in word alone, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction. These people embraced the truth and lived it. We are all called to the same thing. The grace is given for every person to know there is only one God Who is the Truth and Who sets forth how He wants to be worshiped and how those who worship Him should live their lives. Our call in worship and in our daily lives is to love God with our whole heart. Receive the grace of your call and give to God what is God’s: you!
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.