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Render Unto Caesar ...

  10/14/08 12:03, by jsignal, Categories: life with god

Below is the text of my first ever "homily." I've been surprised, but many of my Lutheran family and friends aren't familiar with the term "homily." So I will explain. A homily is like a "sermon," but it focuses more explicitly on the Scripture readings from the day and is given during liturgical worship, such as during a Mass. A sermon is different in that it can be unrelated to the Scripture of the day and can be delivered outside of worship. This homily below was written for my course on Pauline Literature. It won't actually be preached (I'm not yet a deacon!), so maybe it's not even a real homily. In any case, I'm not particularly proud of it because it was hastily written. It isn't my best writing, for sure. But it is my first attempt at writing a homily based on Sunday readings, so I thought it might be noteworthy.

While writing this I realized ... writing a homily is difficult! If your parish has a good preacher who can bring the Scripture alive and connect it to your life, be grateful to God! It's not easy.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Reading I: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6

Responsorial Psalm: 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10

Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21

The readings today speak about the origins of authority, wherever it is manifested, and our obligation as Christians to obey that authority.

The Pharisees and the Herodians, religious and political parties respectively, teamed up to entrap Jesus. The Pharisees were opposed to taxation by the Romans. On the other hand the Herodians, as supporters of King Herod, felt there was an obligation to pay the tax. And so the Pharisees, in the presence of the Herodians, asked Jesus, ?is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?? If Jesus had answered ?yes, it is lawful,? the Pharisees would have had justification to persecute him. If he answered ?no, it is not lawful,? the Herodians would have arrested him for opposing the tax. But Jesus, as he so often did, provided the perfect answer, saving himself from punishment by either party while teaching us something at the same time. He answered, ?repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.? In saying this, Jesus acknowledged that both Caesar and God have certain rights. Neither party could arrest him.

Today this story teaches us three useful lessons. First, that legitimate government has authority and deserves our cooperation. Secondly, and this should be obvious to people sitting in church pews, that God also has authority and deserves our cooperation. And thirdly, the authority of legitimate governments is itself from God. Consider the first reading. Cyrus was a pagan ruler who defeated Babylon, thus freeing Israel from captivity and doing God?s work. As the Lord explained, through the Prophet Isaiah, Cyrus? authority and power were granted by God for the good of God?s people: ?I have called you by your name, though you knew me not. ? It is I who armed you, though you knew me not.? Thus, Cyrus? authority and power were truly from God, and the same is true of all leaders.

And so, how do we pay to God what is due to God? In addition to being faithful Catholics, today?s readings exhort us to subject ourselves to legitimate authority and work within the laws of our society to sanctify that society. When the bishops at Vatican II wrote to offer advice to the faithful on contemporary issues, they addressed this explicitly. The role of the laity is nothing less than the sanctification of the secular world by the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ where the clergy cannot: in your homes, at your jobs, and, perhaps most importantly in this political season, on your ballot. As the bishops explained, ?It is [your] task to cultivate a properly informed conscience and to impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthly city? and that ?Every citizen ought to be mindful of his right and duty to promote the common good by using his vote? (GS 43, 75). It is critical that you inform you conscience, weigh the relative importance of issues, and consider the candidate who is most prepared to exercise his God-given authority for the sanctification of our world and the common good of all human life, from conception to natural death.

When we try to look at the world through the eyes of Christ or of his immaculate Mother, we see a broken world quite at odds with the Gospel. Thus, your task of sanctifying the world from within seems impossible. And it is humanly impossible. But as Saint Paul reminded us in his letter to the Thessalonians today, ?our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.? Realize, then, that the Holy Spirit is with you as you work for the spread of the Gospel. Know that the Church is here to provide moral guidance. And most importantly, know that reception of the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, of which we will soon partake, will provide the grace you need to fulfill the task you have been given.

The image above is "The Tribute Money" by Masacio. For information on the painting, visit the Wikipedia article. The image is public domain.

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