Jesus asks questions, good questions, unnerving questions, re-aligning questions, transforming questions… Maybe this is why we have paid so little attention to Jesus questions and emphasized instead his seeming answers… Easy answers instead of hard questions allow us to try to change others instead of allowing God to change us.
– Fr. Richard Rohr
The readings for the twenty-ninth Sunday in ordinary time cycle A can be found here.
There will be many sermons on the Gospel reading that will echo the words of Ben Franklin when he said “a place for everything, everything in its place.” You will hear how those tricky Jewish leaders put Jesus on the spot and He provided the precise answer that tied the whole matter up with a perfect bow avoiding the pitfalls from all parties. You will hear that this should be our model for balancing our civic duties and the duties of our faith.
This is a logical conclusion if we are looking for answers. Instead of answers we should be looking for questions. If we look hard at the spoken questions of Jesus we might be able to recognize unspoken questions that will transform our lives.
The spoken question of Jesus in the Gospel asks us, whose image does the coin bear? Richard E. Spalding poses the question yet unspoken: “What is it that bears God’s image?”
In the book of Genesis we read “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
This leads us to the question; if we are to give the coins to Caesar to make him happy what are we to give to make God happy? This is the transforming question that we must ask.
In just 19 verses from this Gospel reading, Matthew gives us a clue.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
– Matthew 22: 36-40
This is to be our understanding of what makes God happy. We are asked to even give Caesar to God.
Jurgen Moltmann explains that “Jesus said, God is like the sun rising on the evil and the good, or like the rain pouring down upon the just and the unjust… The new orientation is that we do not live only in two divided and hostile worlds. We actually live on this one earth. We breathe the same air, the same sun is rising on all life. Let us become children of this one earth and overcome our divided, hostile worlds.”
Jesus’ message is not meant to divide our allegiances between the sacred and the secular. Both are sacred to God, because we are precious in God’s sight. Only humans and the human language put that division in place. We are asked to recognize and overcome this divided world. It was the hypocritical Jewish leaders, Herodians and Pharisees, who were trying to cause trouble by dividing the world this way.
The hardest thing is to live in this world as human beings, not to retreat into some other area. But really make your understanding of what it means to be human your theology as well. Some people think when you start talking that we have to get rid of the sacred and the secular that you want to get rid of the sacred. It’s not that. It’s to get rid of this division, so that what is sacred, or what is holy, or whatever your words, or we struggle with words, or whatever that is, it’s part of you as a human being. It’s not part of something that is beyond ourselves. It is more of an understanding of what it is to be human, and part of that is what we have previously labeled as sacred or spiritual. That’s all part of who we are.
– Dr. Val Webb
We have all heard of the term faithful. The faithful are people who show true and constant loyalty. We have all heard the term fearful. The fearful are people inclined to feel anxiety and capable of causing fear. Both are part of the human condition. We can use our faith in God to overcome our fear of the secular.
So much hatred is spoken by people who fear that religion is fading in the face of secularization. The fearful people point at the ever growing secular orientation of our world and the rise of those who claim “none” as their religion. This hatred and fear-mongering will be used in sermons, based on this Gospel, to perpetuate the division between the sacred and secular. Our response must be love, when we are presented with hatred.
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Jesus never said it would be easy to follow Him, but if we practice His teachings and trust that our love will transform this world, we can overcome all of our divisions. That is the very definition of faith in God. That is the lesson from this Gospel story.
I pray that we all become children of this one Earth and allow God to guide us in overcoming our divided and hostile worlds.