We are invited by the readings of this liturgy to reflect upon, at which altar do we worship. In the history of the human race there have been many altars to many gods and goddesses. Some of these holy places are of humans forming likenesses of superhuman beings. Some, like mountains and rivers, are of nature reflecting force and supremacy.
We are encouraged to pray in preparation for the Eucharist with the faith which leads us to worship, adore and petition the God Who has been revealed through the covenants and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We can pray with the attractiveness which false gods have for us. We may pray as well with the attractiveness which Jesus has for us.
We pray also with the call from God, the invitation, which extends through our entire span of days to which we have responded. In this way we are praying with the history of our coming to know, to love, and to serve this One God with more than lip-service.
The Book of Consolation which comprises the sixteen chapters, forty to fifty-five of the Prophet Isaiah, are directed toward the people of Israel’s being in the Babylonian captivity. They are exiled from their homeland and long for release. These many oracles, poems, songs and predictions are meant to keep hope alive in the hearts of the people.
Earlier in the Book, God has called a foreign king, Cyrus, who does not know exactly how he has been called by God. The prophet proclaims that God has called this Cyrus, who is so powerful that kings run away from him, to be the victor over Israel’s captors.
We hear the second section of God’s call to Cyrus begun a few chapters earlier. God affirms that Cyrus, a foreign military leader, has the title of the “anointed”. It may sound as if God is boasting like a professional wrestler, but instead God is protesting divine fidelity to the Jewish nation who lies in captivity. Help is on the way and it is God Who is behind Cyrus’ power and victories.
The Gospel story is familiar and the final line is often quoted to various purposes. The Pharisees have been getting hit quite in their collective noses by the recent parables which Jesus has directed toward them. They want to trap Him and so do something rather strange for them.
The Haerodians are a separate Jewish group who cling to the Pentateuch as containing nothing about the resurrection of the body after death. Even more importantly for this Gospel text, the Herodians accepted the authority of the Romans and their allegiance to Caesar. The Pharisees wishing to get Jesus in conflict with the Romans allied themselves with supporters of the Roman domination.
They flatter Jesus a bit and then pose the big question. Jesus rebukes their intention and confronts their hypocrisy. The coin belongs to Caesar’s empire, his image crowns the coin. The census tax is unjust of course, because the Roman domination is cruel and unjust.
“Repay to Caesar” is the way Jesus avoids entrapment with the Romans which would be reported by the Herodians. Repaying to God what belongs to God is Jesus’ call to the interior surrender to which all people are called. God, the “Dominus” is greater than Caesar and God’s empire more extensive. The Pharisees have heard this insult to their religious authority and so the trap has failed. The tension remains between them and Jesus and that tension will be rising.
Caesar’s image was on the coin of the realm. As we know it was a powerful and extensive kingdom, but temporal. We struggle to live with the belief that God’s image is upon everything and everyone. We are made in that image while we wear our human smudge. It was easy for the Herodians and Pharisees to see Caesar’s image. It takes some reflection to pick up God’s image upon us and others. That image may pop up clearly on the faces of little babies and tall mountains. Our human senses have a built-in filter which is reluctant to repay God for what belongs to God.
I do believe that the first word infants speak, after “no!!!!”, is “Mine!!!!”. That outward possessiveness demands property and dominion. For some, that infancy continues into long years of “mine-ness” grasping.
“Internal possessiveness” is the basis of spirituality and the following of Jesus. It has several aspects. We are invited to receive interiorly God’s image and God’s creating of us. We possess God’s dwelling within us. This allows us to be more grateful for the particular and peculiar person each of us is.
“Interior possessiveness” allows us to be more generous. What we have is a wonder-filled gift which has many auxiliary gifts which express reception in their distribution. Instead of greed, instead of having to possess for ones identity, generosity and service are the coins of the realm. Repaying God with that which belongs to God is called the Christian life. Jesus as King of that realm lived His interior-possession by pouring Himself into each of His life’s gestures. He lived outsidedly what He was inside. We have a ways to go I know, but the call is here, the time is always and the grace is ours by God’s divine generosity. We repay to God what is God’s by accepting who we are and whose we are. We worship at the altar at which Jesus continues to serve from the Divine Generosity of love. We worship at other altars when we forget who we really are.
“See how the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His love, the He may rescue them from death and feed them in time of famine.” Ps. 33
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