Reflections on the Readings
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Into the Fellowship of the Holy
Then Jesus said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
The political and religious leaders joined forces. Both have a common interest in derailing Jesus and his influence. Quickly both groups react when Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world." In the end the mix of the political establishment and the religious rulers will crucify him who said, "I Am." And what gave rise to suspicions in some brought hope to the common people who listened to him with glad and thankful hearts. All those oppressed by the usurpation of their money by the Romans, and by religious leaders who didn't practice what they preach perceived in Jesus a place in the Father's love.
In the closing hours of our Lord's life the religious and political factions unite again when the chief priests declared to Pilate, "Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:12-16)
In today's gospel the tactic is a stealth approach to compromise Jesus and bring him to nothing. "Let's trap him in his words," they said. The question deals with whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Somehow they misunderstood the message. Jesus did not preach insurrection. Neither did Jesus ever incite anyone to riot or discourage anyone from paying their taxes.
The early Church through Paul's preaching understood the role of 'Caesar' and the Christians duty to responsible citizenship. In speaking to the believers in Rome Paul exhorted, "Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due." (see Romans 13:1-7)
It didn't bother Jesus that Caesar's image was imprinted on the coins. The only thing Jesus withheld from Caesar was the right to be worshipped. Caesar can collect taxes; he can't require worship of himself. Caesar can require compensation to run the government and its services; he is not the discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Civil governance derives its legitimacy and authority from God. That's why Jesus exempted no one when he said, "But give to God what belongs to God." Jesus is saying, "Come with me into the Fellowship of the Holy."
You see, the Sabbath was made for you and me. Even though man was created on the sixth day along with all the beasts of the field, God made another day, the seventh day, to help you and me not to behave like a beast. Without this day of contemplation and recollection, we begin to believe our identity, that our real self is in our office or the plaques on the wall, or the degrees behind our names, or the salary we make, or the clothes that we wear. We need Sunday. We need the worship of God to remind us that this world is not our home; that we are not of this world; that we are in the world but made in the image and likeness of God - we need the holy fellowship of him who made us and breathes into us the breath of life.
Our faith is about first things first. It is these things that guide us into the divine life. The first day of the week belongs to him who made it for us. The first fruits of our time, talent and treasure belong to God who gives us all things freely. The first moments of the day spent in a prayerful way brings us into a holy awareness and the hope that God will increase in us the faith he gives us. Let's face it. Without God we don't act the way we should. Without him we don't treat each other the way we ought. Without him we don't remember who we are and that our soul is restless until it finds its rest in him who is holy.
Our Lord is holy indeed, the very fount of holiness. To him we come this morning bringing to him the gift of ourselves. We give him the glory and the praise. We give him the glory due his name. We draw close to him who gives us the gift of himself and commune with him as friend with friend. At this Holy Eucharist we enter into all that is holy; it is the Lord to whom belongs the heavens and the earth and the air we breathe. Oh how he loves you and me. Let us stay here a bit today to remember, my brothers and sisters, that we are loved by God. And then we will return to Caesar's world in that love that never let's go. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com