Friday, October 17, 2008

Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Here is my homily for this Sunday's readings. I can see me losing the congregation during the first half... it's a little heady. This one would probably be best delivered from bullet-points taken from the text. But... the second half would grab their attention. Too controversial?

Over the last few Sundays, our Gospel readings have been from St. Matthew’s Gospel and parable after parable, Jesus has been putting the Pharisees squarely in their place. Earlier in Matthew, the Scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him where his Authority comes from. But he replied that he would only answer their question if they could answer where John the Baptist’s authority comes from. Jesus answered them this way because he knew the Scribes and Pharisees had witnessed much of John’s ministry. But, his reply stumped them. The Scribes and Pharisees didn’t know how to answer because if they said that John’s authority came from above then Jesus could scold them for not following John’s “way of righteousness”. But if they said that John’s authority came from mere men then the great multitude of John’s disciples would rise up against them because they regarded him accurately as a prophet. So they answered cowardly, “we don’t know.” At this our Lord taught them The Parable of the Two Sons that we heard a couple weeks ago. Since then with each parable the Pharisees have been increasing in anger toward Jesus. He had stumped them, caught them trapped in their wickedness and so now the Pharisees decide to try to return the favor. They “went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”

But, their cowardice has increased with their anger for St. Matthew tells us that they sent their own “disciples” to Jesus, rather than engage him themselves. What makes this attempt really devious though is their cooperation with the Herodians. Do you remember in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, the account of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in the days of Herod the Great? He was the king placed over the Jews by the Roman emperor. Upon hearing from the wise men of the birth of the true King of the Jews he sought to kill our Lord but St. Joseph heroically led the Holy Family to safety in Egypt. Although at the time of this conflict with the Pharisees, Herod the Great had been dead for almost 30 years, his successors had maintained a Herodian dynasty over the Jews. The Herodians then were those who were supportive of this dynasty and of Roman rule. But the Pharisees, for all their wickedness and rigid adherence so the law, shared the common conviction that only God is their true king and therefore the Jews should be free from Roman rule. The fact that these two groups would work together toward a common goal would have been unthinkable and shows the true evil of their goal.

Their plan to trap Jesus seemed fool-proof. First, in an act of false humility, they compliment our Lord’s truthfulness and his disregard for opinion or status. But they do not realize that He, who they try to trap in speech, is the Eternal Word of God and Truth Itself. They ask him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They figured that if he said Yes, that it is lawful, then he would be discredited among the Jews as one who advocated Roman rule. But, if he said No then they could report him to the Romans for inciting treason and anti-taxation sentiments among his followers. He answered neither though and his answer left them dumbfounded. After they showed him a coin with Caesar’s image and inscription he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Since the coin had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, it belonged to him and could rightly be returned to him with no religious conflict. No big deal. But what is this about God? They didn’t ask him about God, only about Caesar. This is the point and the lesson Jesus taught them in his simple answer: Obedience to civic duties is the responsibility of all who follow Christ as long as these do not conflict with our duties to God. And more importantly, our duties to God come first and if these conflict with civic duties then God’s law wins out in the end. Jesus may have also been making a play on words. Caesar required his subjects to offer him the worship that was due to God alone. Therefore the Jews were greatly offended by the coins which bore Caesar’s image. They regarded it as a graven image forbidden by the First Commandment to have no other gods. In the natural order, the coin made in Caesar’s image and likeness should be returned to him. But in the supernatural order, we who are made in the image and likeness of God should return our whole lives to Him. This our Lord stated objectively to include all men, including Caesar. The depth and meaning of this response threw the Pharisees and Herodians off their plan. “When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.”

This lesson of our Lord disarmed his enemies. The Truth will always prevail. Therefore this lesson is also true for us, today. We must “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” As Isaiah reminds us, we must remember that God is “the Lord and there is no other.” And, in our Responsorial Psalm we must “tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the Lord made the heavens.” We must “say among the nations: The Lord is king, he governs the peoples with equity.” But what do we do today if, when repaying to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, we fail to “give the Lord the glory due his name”? What if obeying the laws of the land breaks the laws of God?

Today and in our near future, we are faced with many such dilemmas. For example, our Lord, through the Church’s constant and faithful teaching, warns us against the use of contraception, yet some of our laws are forcing faithful, Catholic, pharmacists to fill these prescriptions or be sued. In some parts of Canada it is illegal for a pastor to preach what the Bible says about homosexual activity and we can see this pressure being exerted in America as well. And in this upcoming election we may be forced with the biggest “Caesar vs. God” dilemma of all. One of the gentlemen running for president of the United States, the Democratic candidate, said on July 17, 2007, “The first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” Besides eliminating all restrictions to abortion at any stage, this Act would force taxpayers to fund abortions throughout the United States. So here it’s not a matter of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s on one hand, and then giving to God what is God’s on the other. No, here they are tied together. And it’s not just a matter of inappropriately giving Caesar the priority before God. Here, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s would at the same time undermine and insult God. God alone has ultimate dominion over life, not Caesar, not the government. What then is a faithful Catholic to do? We have to pay taxes don’t we? That’s one of the constants of life. Can we conscientiously object to paying taxes to avoid funding abortions?

My brothers and sisters, if this Act is signed I’m not sure what we should do. There is something we can do now though, while there is still time. In the next two weeks until the election let us focus on what our priorities really are, on the lessons Christ and his Church has taught us. Let us pray and work now for a society in which faithful citizenship can harmoniously repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Let us focus more intently on promoting and believing in the sanctity of preborn human life and on what St. Paul referred to in our Second Reading: a “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ… For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”

1 comment:

Amy M. said...

I don't think the first part is too bad. I was expecting it to be much heavier (in a bad way). I think the bullet points would be a good idea though.

As for the second part, I personally don't think it's too controversial. I mean, it's definitely controversial, but it needs to be said. The only thing I would change would be to avoid being too specific about which candidate said what. I think a more general explanation of the Freedom of Choice Act would suffice. If you get as specific as you did about who said what and when (you did all but say Obama's name) then you will offend more people than would be wise, and give the impression that you're teling them who to vote for, which would cause controversy.

I don't neccesarily think it's a bad thing to inform Catholic voters, but you have to be careful from the pulpit.