Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6 + Psalm 96 + Thessalonians 1: 1-5 + Matthew 22: 15-21
October 22, 2023 at St. Peter and St. William Parishes in Naples, Florida
We are living through a time of catastrophic change, turmoil, the dismantling of former systems and ideology, and extreme uncertainty. I think that is why our civil leaders seem so inept and paralyzed. It is probably why we are so polarized around three ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. Left to themselves, these are all extreme and not very pragmatic. It is not too farfetched to conclude that the systems we have in place are broken and unable to address much less solve the problems spiraling out of control before us? If we get really honest with ourselves, we ought to admit that there is no perfect way. A really sincere and honest follower of Jesus Christ can never find a happy home here. Jesus knew that it would be different which is why he put forth God’s vision for the world in the Beatitudes. It would be nice if it all could just come together as one, without disharmony or discord. Practical sense and wisdom continue to tell us that it won’t. It is why the central symbol of our faith lies in the torn and mutilated body of a man hanging on a tree. What can be perceived by a non-believer as a gruesome defeat is for the person of faith a tremendous victory! We live with contradictions, but not with fear.
More than ever before we are called to embrace God’s vision for the world working for justice, peace, and integrity, all the while preserving the sacredness of human life at every stage. We cannot neglect returning to God the very image God has placed upon us, and we do that by restoring that very beautiful image in all our brothers and sisters. None of us are objects to be manipulated, ridiculed, or berated. We are all God’s children who need to find our way back to the innocence we once knew at our conception. This is no pipe dream. It is real, and it is possible.
Those who have come to that Temple to trap Jesus want to get him to take a side in some political dilemma. He won’t go there. We ought not miss the point that this happens in the Temple, in God’s holy place. He dismisses Caesar and turns the issue to God. We’ve all heard all kinds of speeches and sermons about this text assuming wrongly that it is about the separation of the Church and State. The idea would never have entered their minds at that time. Jesus is talking to people who pay their taxes to keep the peace with Rome, but do nothing, give nothing, and have no thought about why or how to give to God. They have forgotten how to do that.
This confrontation over a coin is not a solution to the controversy of church verses state. This is not some easy way out of what may well be the purpose and meaning of life, to give to God what God is due. When Jesus says: “Whose coin is this?” they all know it is Caesars, because all money belongs to Caesar. The real question his is, “What is God’s”? We know the answer. Everything.
So, how do we give back to God? We could start by putting the will of God ahead of our own will. We could ask ourselves some tough questions like: “Is it God’s will that God’s children be separated by skin color, where they are born, or what language they speak? Is it God’s will that we take human lives? Is it God’s will that anyone should be hungry? At the same time, we can start giving back to God when we listen to each other without judgement or criticism, hearing their pain and their fear. We also give back to God when we realize that our resources need to be protected and shared because they really belong to God. They are not ours. When that happens, we might begin to realize that “success” is not about power or domination, but about opportunity and abundance. It’s not about what I can keep for myself but about what I can do for others with what I have. That might go a long way toward losing our sense of entitlement and lead us to the virtue of humility.
Today, Jesus Christ appeals to us all to look beyond the simplistic politics and all the black and white legalisms and ideologies of the day and realize that we are called to embrace values centered in a faith that sees the hand of God in all things. There is nothing socialistic, conservative or liberal about that. We do not live in two separate worlds. How we live in the world of Caesar may well determine how and if we shall live in the world of God.