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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good Citizens in the Society of Heaven: Homily for the XXIX Sunday of Ordinary Time

An amended rendering of this past Sunday's homily.


Today's Gospel gives us a scene that we often don't see outside of the latter part of the season of Lent.  The Pharisees are actively trying to trap Jesus with his own words so that they can arrest him and eliminate him from the public consciousness.  Matthew tells us that they bring with them "the Herodians," a pro-Roman group who favored the Roman occupation of Judea--something that many of Jesus' disciples  were adamantly opposed to.  We mustn't forget that many of Jesus' disciples fell under the commonly-held belief that the Messiah would be a warrior-king sent to free the Jewish people from their temporal enemies.  Believing that Jesus was the Messiah, there was somewhat of an expectation that his sentiments would be vehemently anti-Roman.

So the Pharisees are effectively trying to get Jesus to alienate himself from one group or the other, and be the cause of what would undoubtedly turn into an ugly--and possibly bloody--riot (as was so often the case in those days).  And Jesus' response baffles them completely: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God's."  In a way, it seems as though he is equivocating and attempting to placate both sides without causing offense.  But, deep down, this simple--and oft-misinterpreted--phrase has great meaning.

How many of us file our taxes every year?  How many of us obey traffic laws, etc.?  We do our civic duty because it is what civil society expects of us.  And in giving "to Caesar what is Caesar's"we avoid the penalties, punishments, and sanctions imposed by "Caesar" for disobeying the laws.

But how often do we truly give to God what is God's?  Just as we are members of secular society, we, as the Christian Faithful, are members of a far more important society--the Christian society, the Church, the Kingdom of God on earth!  St. Paul reminds us that "Our citizenship is in heaven," and while this is often used to remind us that we need not be overburdened by the trappings of this life, it also calls to mind the fact that we have a greater citizenship, and one which demands far greater things of us.  This citizenship in the Kingdom of God on earth requires of us the same civic duties and responsibilities as our secular citizenship.

Now, at this point, many people (usually people who, for some reason, are very unhappy individuals--I haven't figured out why, and I won't speculate) become very irritated at hearing that being a good Christian involves obligation.  Their first reaction is often: "Well, I didn't agree to that," or "I was baptized when I was a baby.  I didn't make that decision for myself."  These same criticisms are parroted by our Protestant brethren on a regular basis.

Yet in today's first reading, Isaiah makes it very clear to Cyrus that God doesn't necessarily wait for a person to consciously and actively seek Him before being called!  God, through Isaiah, tells Cyrus: "I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not."  And, similarly, Jeremiah tells of his calling by God: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I consecrated you a prophet to the nations."  God chooses us to serve Him!  The decision to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God on earth--the Church--is ours to make.  But it is God who calls us to serve Him.  It is God who gives us a place in His Kingdom!

So, how do we become good citizens in this Kingdom?  By doing exactly what makes us good citizens in secular society--by following the laws and precepts set forth by God, and intended for our own spiritual well-being.  Giving to God what is God's requires us to give of ourselves--for indeed, we are His!  We give to God of our Time, Talent, and Treasure.  We follow God's Commandments, the precepts of the Church; and we conform our lives to all that God has commanded of us.  This is what it means to be a good and faithful citizen of the Kingdom of God, and this is what it means to give to God what is God's.

My friends, we all should take time to reflect on just how often we give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but how rarely we truly give to God what is God's.  What is the source of this discrepancy?  After all, we are equal citizens of both.  Perhaps the punishments of secular society--fines, imprisonment, etc.--are more readily perceivable.  But, we must never lose sight of what awaits those of us who refuse to take on the responsibilities and obligations of citizenship in His Kingdom.

May God give us the grace and strength to be more willing to give of ourselves to God as He expects, in joyful anticipation of sharing in His life in the Kingdom He has prepared for us.  We are citizens of Heaven.  Wouldn't it be nice if we all actually ended up there?!

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