In the gospel readings over the last five days, Jesus has been addressing the woefulness of the Pharisees. In each gospel from Luke and Matthew this week, He warns the people that the Pharisees love their seats of honor, but are empty on the inside. He repeatedly tells His people that the Pharisees are not who they presume to be. They “are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” The Pharisees do not approve of Jesus at all and were, in fact, plotting against Him.
In the readings for today, what are we being told? In the first reading, Isaiah tells us “I am the Lord, there is no other”. In the psalm, we are told to “give to the Lord glory and honor…. you families of nations, give glory due his name” and in the second reading from Paul to the Thessalonians, we are again reminded to “give thanks to God for all of you,… unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love.”
In the gospel, we are told to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”. This gospel starts off with how the Pharisees plotted against Jesus and were accompanied by the Herodians. The Pharisees were religious Jewish Nationalists who resisted Roman rule and the Herodians were secular loyalists to Rome. Normally they were not of the same mind; they had opposing political views. But both were enemies of Jesus because He told them they were in danger of losing the Kingdom of God. Together they tried to entrap Jesus to proclaim loyalty to one and not the other. If when He was asked if it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not, they thought He would chose a side and then they would be able to condemn Him because he picked an opposing side of one group. Jesus asked for a coin, a denarius was given, and on it was an image of Caesar. It was a Roman coin. A coin has two sides – the “heads” side identifies authority and the “tails” side refers to history or culture. He asked whose image is on the coin and they answered “Caesar”. But Jesus knew what they were up to, he outsmarted them and said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God that things that are God’s”. After that statement, there is a concluding sentence not listed in this gospel, “ When they heard it, they marveled, and they left him and went away”.
Were they trying to dupe Jesus? Yes. Did they succeed? No. Do we try to dupe Jesus? Do we say or do things that we do not mean, or say or do things just for show? Do we not do things that we are supposed to do or get lazy and fudge things that we need to pay attention to? Are we full of ourselves as the Pharisee and Herodians were when they were thinking they could get the best of Jesus? When we are going about our daily lives, are we bringing Jesus with us, or is He tucked into the corner then brought out every week at mass? Or not?
In these readings, we are reminded to pay our duty here on earth as well as to glorify our heavenly Father. How do we render to our community right here on earth? You all know the answers to that: by participating in social justice action, giving alms to the poor, feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick, helping out wherever we can to make a difference… and paying our taxes. In the Pope’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), he proposes to us a way of life marked by “the flavor of the gospel. That flavor involves welcoming strangers, feeding the hungry, listening to and giving a hand to the poor, defending the rights of all and ensuring that each person, at every stage of life, is valued and invited to contribute to the community.” So we are reminded often what we need to do to comply with God’s command here on earth.
In preparing this reflection, I came across a quote that I decided would be appropriate to tell you. It is from Word-Sunday by Larry Broding, who has given permission to use any or all of his material presented. “Jesus gave us the freedom to act in the public arena. But with that freedom came a responsibility. God calls us to act for the good of all. Does America’s obsession with personal freedom preclude the common good? Or does it encourage altruistic acts? Let us pray the latter.” God gave us the freedom to choose how to give back to society, but we must make sure the responsibility of personal freedom includes good for all, not just for ourselves. Is our giving back a work of faith and labor of love like it says in the second reading? Are we giving to the Lord glory and honor as the psalm states?
How do we praise God from whom all blessings flow here on earth? We do that by doing what we’re supposed to be doing every day. When Saint Francis was asked if he knew he was going to die tomorrow, what would he do? He said, “I would continue to sow the land like I am right now.” He knew he was living as he should and knew there was no do over. I remember hearing that as a child and was very afraid I was not doing everything I could do to get into heaven. It kind of scared me, but it also came with me throughout my life. We only have one chance at this life to gain entry into heaven and have eternal rest in the glory of God.
We have many saints as role models on how to fashion our spiritual lives. As a child I was very lucky to have a role model of a faith filled person in my Mother. She was deeply religious and had my younger brother and me in church every Sunday and sometimes during the week as well as every Tuesday for the Miraculous Medal novena. My Mom died when I was 14 and my brother was 10; she left us a beautiful legacy of devotion to God and of giving back to our community. She drove the nuns from our Catholic School around everywhere almost every day because they were not allowed to drive or own a car. So, we were surrounded by the holy. It rubbed off even though we did not realize it. She was our role model growing up and we never forgot how much she did for our family and our Church. She taught us to give for the good of all, not just for ourselves.
In reflecting on the readings, I also thought of not only rendering to do God’s work but surrendering to God to do His work. In order to do good, we need to surrender our own agenda to fulfill God’s agenda. We need to put aside our pride and open our hearts by thoughtful prayer and listening to the Word. We are lucky here in our Parish to have the opportunity to do this by attending adoration and sitting quietly without outside distractions, or if not at adoration in the Chapel, in our own homes by finding our own quiet place and meditating on the Word. One of the gospel acclamations this past week tells us “The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”.
When reflecting on the words of St Francis, I found not only his Peace Prayer, but also another quote that really made me pause:
St Francis said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words.”
We were placed here on earth to continue on our path to heaven and pave it with good works and praise to our God.
What steps can we take today and tomorrow to continue on the path to end up with our eternal reward… a hug from our Jesus?