10.22.17 Sun. wk 29 – O.T. – A
1st Reading Isaiah 45: 1, 4 – 6
Thessalonians 1: 1 – 5b
Gospel – Matt 22: 15 – 21
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Render To God, What Is God’s
In reflecting on this Gospel, I did some research on currency. In the ancient world, currency had real political power. Kings and emperors would issue coins with their own image and inscription on the coins. In this way the coin was regarded as the personal property of the King or the Emperor. And wherever the coin was valid, wherever it was used in the economy to buy or sell things, it symbolized that the king had power over that people. The Jewish people used Roman coins, as we read in today’s Gospel. Caesar had political power over the Jewish people because Judea was a colony of Rome; it was an occupied country.
Now there is something interesting about our own currency in the United States. In my research, I found out that at the time of the Revolutionary War, the image of King George III was on all our currency because we were a colony of Great Britain. After the revolution, when the United States started minting currency as an independent nation, the image of dead Presidents was minted on our currency. Why dead Presidents? It was to make a point – ‘We the People’ own this country and this currency, not any individual person. They never put the image of a live president or current president on the coin (because they wanted to make the point very clear) “We the People” own the currency and we own the money. Therefore, to this day, no living presidents are ever depicted on our currency.
†Jesus taught that since Caesar owned the money, it must be given to him in taxes or for whatever else was necessary. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” (Matt.22:21) However, there is another lesson that †Jesus is teaching. “Repay to God what belongs to God.” (ibid) We have been created in the image and likeness of God. In fact we read in the very first pages of the Scriptures (in the Book of Genesis) “God created man in His own image, male and female He created them.” (Gen.1:26-27) We are minted in God’s image, we don’t belong to ourselves; we belong to God who created us; God who redeemed us in the blood of His Son, †Jesus. And St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – to God!” (Rom.12:1) Our life and everything we possess belongs to God. Are we living for the glory and honor of God? Are we using all that we have, and all that we have been given, to build up the Kingdom of God? Or, do we use it solely for our own happiness or our own gratification?
If a woman is created in the image and likeness of God, does she have a right to kill the child in her womb – a child that belongs to God? Or, if she is created in the image of God, does anyone have a right to abuse her? If a terminally or chronically ill person is in the image of the crucified Christ, do they or someone else, have a right to end their life permanently, through euthanasia; to put them out of pain, like an animal? Are we giving to God what belongs to God?
In the Gospel, the coin minted by the Roman Government belonged to Rome. The denarius had the image of Tiberius Caesar on the coin portraying him as divine, because the Roman Caesars considered themselves divine. We know that Judaism taught divinity applied only to God. That is why †Jesus is calling the disciples of the Pharisees: “Hypocrites,” because they carried a coin around with them – depicting someone other than God – to be divine. (Had money and political power become a ‘god’ to these people?) †Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy! And †Jesus was teaching this lesson: ‘In the divine economy, money is not the currency that counts, so use it generously to help others.’ The payment due to the one true God is worship “in spirit and in truth” (Jn.4:23) as †Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel. And we read this in Psalm 51:
“For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, O Lord, is a contrite spirit; a humbled, contrite heart. (Ps. 51:18-19)
When we pray this Psalm, we are asking to be in the midst of the economy of God’s Salvation, offering ourselves as currency, as the image of God for others. We are also asked to consider our relationship to those in need. If I am in the image and likeness of †Jesus – am I giving †Jesus to the world? All the parishes in the diocese are being asked to contribute to a disaster relief fund this weekend to help those affected by recent natural disasters. So if everyone belongs to †Jesus, we must witness that we share what we have with †Jesus, who lives in other places; the impoverished †Jesus, the hungry †Jesus, the poor †Jesus, the Child †Jesus who is living in a shelter because their home has been destroyed. If we bear the image of Christ in our heart and soul, and if †Jesus is in those places of need, shouldn’t we be there as well, with the gift of our love and charity? The person of faith understands that all we have comes from God’s goodness. “Repay to God what belongs to God.” We are made in God’s image; we belong to God and we are called to give our self to God. Our mission as Catholics, is to bring Christ to the world. However, the goal of the secular culture is – to marginalize Christianity – to create a world without God! Christianity, is considered divisive by the secular culture, because we do not worship the emperor of the moment. But, we possess an indestructible core. Through our Baptism we possess the desire for truth, the grace of love, mercy, compassion and the manifestation of the good. This is how we are called to live through our Baptism.
In our Gospel today †Jesus is saying: ‘We should be as careful about our obligations to God as we are about our obligations to government.’ We pay taxes; we obey the law. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” (the coin with Caesar’s image). “Repay to God what belongs to God” (the human person stamped with God’s image). If paying to God what belongs to God means anything at all, then it must mean putting God first in our lives. There must be no walled-off area where the Lord is not allowed to enter; where the Lord is 2nd or 3rd; nor can we treat others as 2nd or 3rd class citizens. We must put first things – first.
There is a story of a widow, who, after her husband died, was lonely. Her kids were grown up and out of the house and she needed someone to talk to. She thought about getting a pet. So she went to the nearest pet store and purchased a parrot. She thought would teach this parrot how to talk and this pet would give her a little company and conversation, so she bought the parrot. Well the next day she comes back and returns the parrot. She said: “The parrot doesn’t speak.” The owner of the pet store said: “Is there a mirror in the cage, parrots love mirrors?” She said: “No.” So the owner said: “Buy a mirror and put it in the cage.” She bought the mirror and put it in the cage. The next day she brings the parrot back again. “He doesn’t speak!” So the owner asked: “Is there a ladder in the cage? Parrots love to go up and down those ladders, maybe if you get a ladder, that will get him excited and he will start talking to you.” So she bought a ladder and put it in the cage. She came back the next day. “He is still not speaking! Take him back.” The owner says: “No, no. No, no. Do you have a swing in the cage? Parrots love to be on swings and he will start talking when he gets on the swing.” So she said: “O.K.” She bought a swing and put the swing in the cage. She comes back again the next day – a bit sad. She said: “The parrot died.” The manager said: “ Oh, I’m so sorry. Did he say anything before he died?” The woman said: “Yes, he did say something in a very small, tired voice.” He said: “Doesn’t that pet store sell any food?”
You see, we must establish true priorities in our life. If you buy a parrot make sure you buy food for the parrot before you by a mirror, ladder or swing. Rendering to God first – is more important than anything else. Are we as careful about our obligations to God as we are to the culture and to ourselves? When we put God first in our life we make a beautiful discovery – what is left over for ourselves – is always enough. In fact, ultimately, it is more than enough, because God is never outdone in generosity – ever! “In the end three things last: Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love.” (I Cor.13:13)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit .