October 22, 2017 — Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
From the moment that Isaiah reminds us in the First Reading that God says, “I have called you by your name… though you knew me not,” until Jesus closes the Gospel with “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” we are reminded how much a part of our lives the Lord is, or should be. All the readings on this Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time point to this important relationship to God.
God speaks through Isaiah and the other prophets. When we hear the word “prophecy,” we tend to think of a prediction, and indication of what is to come. However, the prophets did more than foretell events in the future. They also served as interpreters for God; thus, they did a combination of preaching as well as foretelling. In this particular passage of Holy Scripture God is indeed speaking through Isaiah to the people, to us. Therefore, when God says to us “I have called you by name,” it does foretell the idea that the Lord knew us in the womb, by name. And, of course, we are called.
At another point in the Book of Isaiah, God says, “I have called you by name; you are mine.” We might say that we are each marked by God, each identified, and with that identification and relationship come expectations. Twice God declares in this reading, “I am the Lord and there is no other.” That is something on which we need to reflect and which we need to take to heart. God needs to be at the center of our lives.
Our Second Reading comes from the opening of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Paul had personally founded the Church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. Although he was only there a short period of time the Church there continued to thrive and be active. His love and concern for this particular Church prompted this letter. You will also note that Paul opens his letter including greetings from Silvanus and Timothy. Each of those men was a long-time companions of Paul on his various missionary journeys. Silvanus had accompanied Paul to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, and is also cited as having been with him on other journeys. Like Paul, he was imprisoned there, which was one of the reasons for Paul’s abbreviated stay.
Later in this letter Paul points out that his other close cohort Timothy had been sent there by him earlier. The point of this is that Paul did not work alone. Paul firmly believed in working as a team, which this greeting reinforces. Scholars believe that this may have been the first of Paul’s many letters, and it was inspired when Paul was in Corinth and Silvanus and Timothy brought him news of how the Church in Thessalonica was strong and thriving. Paul always understood that any success he might have or have had was the result of God and his relationship with the Lord. There is also another significant comment by Paul in this Second Reading. When speaking of his prayers of gratitude, Paul says simply “…your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even though he cites these three many other times in his writing, this is the first time that Paul clearly identifies “faith, hope, and love.”
It always seems that it is the Gospel that captures perfectly the essence of the message. Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew falls directly after the Gospel of last week. We are told that the Pharisees were plotting ways to entrap Jesus. The results of their plans brought the question they ask: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” As is the case with many of their planned questions to the Lord, Jesus found Himself in a dilemma relating to the answer. If He said the taxes should be paid, He would be saying something that would upset the Israeli people; if He said, they should not be paid, He would be at odds with Caesar and the government.
The Lord’s answer, “…repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” was of course perfect. Jesus would seem to affirm that the government makes legitimate requests to us. In a sense we are responsible to God in all things, but at the same time we must be have some obedience to our government in matters civil and national. At one point in First Peter, St. Peter says, “Fear God; honor the King.” As Catholics and Christians we have more or less a dual citizenship. We are citizens of the country in which we live, and are obliged to support public services. At the same time, we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God. Jesus makes it clear that we can be citizens of His Kingdom as well as the civil rule under which we live.