|29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
First Thessalonians 1:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
So as to be more receptive to the Word and Eucharist, we might picture Jesus holding a Roman coin in one hand and a mirror in the other. He is showing the coin to his interrogators and with the mirror, he is showing them, themselves. Jesus knows their intentions, and turns their trickery into their shame.
We can pray these days with our own attempts to test or bargain with God. We can admit our fears about whether God loves us and whether we really belong to the one God. We want to render to God what belongs to God, but it is so difficult for us to admit all that belongs to God and not to ourselves or any other Caesars.
We can pray also with the comfort of realizing all that God has rendered to us and how God shares with us that we might render God thanks and continue the sharing. It all begins and ends with the Eucharist. Jesus hands himself to us, tenders his resignation into our humanity and then missions us to render to others what actually belongs to God, namely ourselves and God’s grace.
The section from the Book of Isaiah, from which our First Reading is taken, moves constantly around the theme of hope in the One God Who has promised release from captivity. An early verse has God telling the prophet to announce the time of affliction to be at an end. What we hear in our reading is an announcement that a non-Jewish military leader has been called by God to subdue all the forces against Israel and it is the same One and only God Who will prove faithful by calling this foreigner who has not known Israel’s God in his life.
Cyrus is anointed by God so that Israel and then all nations will know that there is only one God and that is none other than the Holy One of Israel. This God desires to be known by all and asks that the deeds of salvation and restoration be acknowledged as personal actions of a loving personal God.
The Gospel is one more simple story of the Pharisees trying to catch Jesus in a trap. The Roman Empire extends from northern Europe south and eastward to Turkey; Israel is such a little outpost. The Jews are forced to recognize Caesar as their almost godlike ruler; he is feared and hated by the Jews.
The Jewish leaders are building up a fear of Jesus as well, because of his growing power and authority as well as by his having been telling parables in which they see themselves in a rather poor light. They present a roman coin with Caesar’s image on one side. They are asking him a testy question about whether loyal Jews should pay the census tax or not. Jesus does not give them the answer by which they can either denounce him to the Roman officials or to the Jewish authorities. The question is really trying to catch where his alliances are.
Jesus implies that Caesar is not God so respond to Caesar who has limited authority and power, but respond to God Whose image is imprinted on everything including the roman coin. Jesus avoids the trap, shows his testers their malice, but invites them beyond coins and tricks to render to the One God what right belongs to God, gratitude and service. Next Sunday we will hear more loaded questions, which like this one, Jesus will use to confound and yet invite; always he is inviting.
Many times I hear people say, “I have a problem with God.” I have several clever replies to this, but my Jesuitly-compassionate response is that God has a problem about us. God’s problem is that God has to attract our attention if God is going to attract our affection. So like a sophomore lover-lad, who wants to get his girl friend’s attention, God has to drop hints or little indications. The One God has to come close enough to attract, but not so close so as to force a response of surrender and acknowledgement. So as with the Roman coin, there are two sides to every “coin” or hint or anything which is offered to us in life. Our challenge is to try to look at both sides and see the image of God’s inviting embrace and the other side which has the authority the world gives it.
Some “coins” are very difficult to turn over and the image of God sometimes seems very dim. Rendering to God all praise and thanksgiving is our orientation and not our constant option. The wonderful thing about the One God is God’s awareness of how difficult it is for us to be as constantly faithful as God is. Our vocation is to keep examining those “coins” to see that image and render God at least a smile.
“See how the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those who hope in his love, that he may rescue them from death and feed them in time of famine.” Ps. 33
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