HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings: Is. 45:1,4-6/1Thes. 1:1-5
Gospel: Mt. 22:15-21
A guy is walking down the road where he loses his balance and falls into a large hole. As he is struggling to get out, he sees a doctor looking down at him. He says “Hey Doc, I need some help out of this hole.” The Doctor scribbles something on a piece of paper, throws it down the hole and walks away. The guy looks at it and sees that it is a prescription for a pain killer and a note “All my thoughts for a speedy recovery.” Later on, the guy sees a minister looking down the hole. They guy shouts up, “Hey Pastor, I have been in this hole for a while, can you help me out?” The Pastor writes something on a piece of paper and throws it down the hole. The guy looks at it and it says, “I hope this prayer helps you as you continue in your struggles.” Great the guy thought, I have been in this hole for some time and all I have been given are hopes and prayers.
Finally someone looks down the hole and sees that it is a friend. The guy cries out, “Hey Mike, it’s Pat. I’m stuck down here and I can’t get out.” All of a sudden, Mike jumps down into the hole to be with Pat. Pat looks at him funny, “What are you doing here” he asks? Mike tells him “Well, I have been down here before and I know the way out.” Whenever we see that we that we are in a spot that we think is hopeless to get out, it takes more than hopes and prayers, but the aid of someone who has been there before that can truly bring us out of the hole and back into the light of the sun. In the Gospel proclaimed today, Jesus is still dealing with those who only see that all of our problems can be solved by either thoughts or prayers. In fact, if we were to look at the entirety of the 22nd Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have an entire synopsis of Jesus’ frustration with both sides. Each of the three people in the story can be seen in this chapter.
Let’s take a look at the first person: The Doctor. He was the first person to look down in the hole. He saw someone in despair, but chose to focus only on himself and his abilities rather than helping someone in need. Now, while we all know that this is a bit of a stereotype, we all know of someone who would rather focus on his own importance than being engaged in the importance of the moment. In the Gospel last week, those who had been invited to the wedding knew of what was expected on them when they arrived, but thought their work was more important than the celebration held by the king for his son’s wedding. Either they did not want to, or they chose to arrive after the feast had begun, so as to make a big entrance (i.e. “fashionably late”). So the king invited anyone that wanted to come, and they arrived when it began in the outfit for a wedding. The one who did arrive at the feast late, while possibly an original invitee, decided to come dressed as he would at work or for a normal dinner. His lack of preparation for the wedding caused him to be cast out of the feast, because he believed that what he did in his life-without showing proper respect for the king-was enough to enter the feast.
Now, let’s look at the second guy, the Pastor. This could be someone who was ordained or called to the ministry; or it could be someone who is really passionate about their faith, how it is displayed in the Temple and how others treat it in their presence. Their self-focused evangelization along with their belief that nothing can go right without everyone believing as they do can cause more harm than good to the society at large. Divisions will be made that would not have been there because of their piety and rigidity in their beliefs and the beliefs that they profess to others.
This belief is not just a religious thought; it can be a social or political thought as well. Much of the time we try to keep one from the other (not mix politics and religion) but there have been cases where the mixture of the two can present interesting results. One wants to control the other and the results of that tend to be disastrous for both sides. In the Gospel today, the Pharisees (lovers of the Temple) and the Herodians (lovers of the King or the State) came together for a common purpose: To get Jesus to commit to their side. It didn’t matter which side it was. It was just to get rally points for their particular cause. We see that today whenever our elected officials are faced with an important vote. Whichever way that they cast their vote will be a rallying point for both groups later on, particularly when it comes to election season. When these groups came to Jesus to ask him if they should pay tribute to Caesar or not, their only intent was to gain ammunition for their cause, not a confirmation of their beliefs. So when Jesus tells them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God, it was not a declaration of one greater than the other, nor was it saying that one was equal to the other. It was that whatever the state provides for their residents, the residents should repay in kind. Yet whatever God has given us, we must also return to him. So, rather than debate whether or not to pay Caesar, the question now becomes what is Caesars, and what is God’s?
One more group that does need to be mentioned, although we will not hear of them in the near future, is the Sadducees. These are the ones that hold a strict, literalist interpretation of the Law of Moses. They only took the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, as Scripture and nothing else. Their argument with Jesus is the concept of the soul and the afterlife. Since nothing was mentioned of it in those books, then it does not exist. These people-whether or not they were on the Church side or the State side- would be considered “original literalists.” This was a different thought than those of Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the body; or that of the Greeks, who understood the belief of an immortal soul. They came to Jesus to ask him about a woman who was married to seven sons on seven different occasions. After one son died, she was married to the next one in line. Their question was to know after she had died, who wife was she in the afterlife? This was a stupid question in the eyes of Jesus, who reminded all that when we die our earthy bodies are gone and we are given a heavenly body in a realm of a Heavenly Paradise. He reminds everyone that God is the God of the living and not of the dead.
So now we come to the third person; the friend who comes to help. When we fall down and do not see any way of getting up, where do we look for assistance? We look to experts that seem to know what direction we need to go so we can get up and get going. Yet sometimes these experts are only talking in generalities rather than understanding the specific problem and helping out right then and now. While we think we understand and appreciate their words of wisdom, the fact is that while we are upbeat, we are still down in the hole with no way of getting out. Like the Doctor and the Priest, they only give out “thoughts and prayers.”
The one who comes down to the pit is the one who really knows how to get out of this spot. The Gospel next week has someone come to Jesus and ask him what they needed to get out of their “hole”, meaning what they need to do to gain happiness. How they asked him could have been another test, but it was also an inquiry toward salvation. The man asked him “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Jesus looked at him and, in my mind, saw him not with disdain but with genuine love and concern. The question was not a trap, but an actual desire to know the will of God. So Jesus tells him to love God with all your heart and all you soul and all you mind. Then he goes one further and says the second greatest is to love each other as ourselves. Without these two, everything we say and do, whether it is for God or for the State will be for nothing.
The story is told that during the (U.S.) Civil War Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on his side in this conflict. Lincoln was to have responded, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” When we try to do what is best, we sometimes say we do it to get God on our side. Yet as we heard last week, what we hear today, and what we will hear next week, we can only hope and pray that what we do will confirm that we are on God’s side. For it is arrogance to suggest that God will come to us in what we do or what we say. Only when we go to God will we understand that what we do or say will be for his benefit and not for ours. Then we can truly say we are not just subjects; not just disciples; but the Children of God.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
Questions for Reflection:
- How do you understand the teaching “repay to Caesar what
belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God?”
- Who do you see are the modern-day Pharisees? The Herodians?
Sadducees? Have you ever found yourself turning into one of these?
- If the Second Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor
as yourself, is your love of your neighbor the same as the love you have for yourself?