29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
Dr. Madison Sarratt taught Mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years. Before giving a test, the professor would admonish his class, “Today I am giving two examinations—one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, fulfilling your obligations to your teacher and to your God. If you fail, fail for trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are not many people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty, the debt we owe to God.” This piece of advice sounds like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God.”
Some questions genuinely want to get to the bottom of things. Other questions are disingenuous traps — we call them “gotcha questions.” Jesus responds to one of those with a profound truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and give to God what is God’s.”
And in that moment, Jesus opens a problem that so many of us have. We know so easily how to give the government its due — our taxes, our service — how is it that we do not know to give to God our sacrifice and our service? Or how is that when we do know, we so often fail to do it anyway? Why do we make choices that we know God does not want us to make? Why do we not choose those things what we know deep down that God wants us to do? And If we know how to call on the government, how is it we do not know to call upon God in trust at every moment of our lives. After all, which is the more reliable? Which is the more powerful and dependable? Which passes and which remains? Or do we really believe what Scripture tells us the answers to those questions are?
Today, God tells Cyrus the conqueror, who did not know God, that God had called him by name and would use him for God’s own purposes and glory. Well, if God calls Cyrus by name – how much more does He call His own people who bear His name, Christian, — and if he equips Cyrus for his task, how much more will He equip us for our vocation? The psalmist tells us exactly what that vocation is. We are to Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, Sing a new song, Declare his glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples.
This is our calling, our purpose, given to us at our Baptism and Confirmation. We are to declare in front of the world thanksgiving and praise to God, and He has even given us the words to do it. It doesn’t mean we have to be theologians, or able to answer trick questions like the ones the scribes put to Jesus; rather, it means that by our example of life — turning everything over to prayer, by putting God and His Ways first in our lives, by living as best we can the way He has called us to live — in this way, we fulfill our vocation of witnessing and glorifying God. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that He has chosen us for this.
We become, says the Gospel acclamation, “stars in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” You and I become stars of Bethlehem pointing to Christ.
That is why Father prayed for us at the beginning of this Mass, that God would grant that we conform our will to His in sincerity of heart.
But as soon as we hear that, we know, in our heart of hearts, that cannot do that very well. It can be hard sometimes in this confusing world, and with our weaknesses to hold fast to the word of life.
But the Antiphon of this Mass asks God to help us, hear us, and protect us in the shadow of His wings. The Communion Antiphon today answers that prayer. It says: The eyes of the Lord ARE on those who fear him and hope in Him. God’s grace helps now, at this moment, fulfilling God’s promise to help us in the present age to live out our vocation, and to enter our eternal destiny.
He is always there. It is when we do not call, when we do not turn to Him, that we are not in the shadow of His wings, under His care, when we are instead under judgement — we do that to ourselves. But when we bring ourselves as an offering to the Lord, by coming to this Mass, by saying “Yes” to the kind of life He calls us to, then, St. Paul tells us today, the Gospel comes to us not just in word, but in power and the Holy Spirit and full of conviction. In a moment, Father declares at the altar that he is offering “my sacrifice and yours.” Your sacrifice is your “yes,” making yourself available to God as His instrument in the world that so desperately needs a witness that there is a God of mercy — a God who invites all of us to shelter under His wings.
1) We need to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”: How? It is the duty of Christians, as citizens of the country, to pay for the services and the privileges that government provides, like paved roads, police and fire departments, banks, schools, and other necessities. If we refuse to pay taxes, how will these needs be met? Another way of “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is to participate actively in the running of the government, electing the most suitable candidates and influencing them through frequent contacts. Third, we must submit to the civil authorities and respect the just laws of our country to live in peace. As loyal citizens, we must also see to it that our elected representatives are faithful in maintaining law and order in the country and in promoting the welfare of all its citizens without violating God’s laws.
2) We need to “give to God what is God’s.” How? Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays. We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations, and we should find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals. We are invited each year to make a stewardship pledge of our financial offering to the local Church for the coming year. Our contribution to the parish Church should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that He has given us. Active participation in the various ministries of the parish is an offering to God of our time and talents, yet another way of giving to God His due, our whole self.
Fr. A. Francis HGN