29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
October 19, 2014
Once again some of the Pharisees try to entrap Jesus. This time come to him acting like they believe him, praising him as a truthful man who follows God’s way rather than human opinion.
They say this not because they believe it but only to trap him. It’s a shame that they don’t realize the truth in their words. Probably most of us have encountered someone who will say whatever they think we want to hear, just to get something for themselves.
Of course Jesus is not readily trapped. He knows what they are up to. Rather than retaliating against them or condemning them, Jesus, as he does often, turns their question into a teaching moment.
What is their question? “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They are sure they have him trapped with this one. If he says no, the Roman supporters will come after him. If he says yes, the nationalistic Jews will strike against him.
Jesus is no idiot. His response is simple as he asks to see the coin. They immediately show him one (indicating they use the Roman coins and thus probably pay the tax) and he asks whose image is on it. Of course, it is Caesar’s and show Jesus tells them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
This might seem like a clear separation of church and state. Jesus never says that. The secular government has no right to tell the church what to do and the church does not dictate what the government does but we must always put God first and stand up what we believe.
We must pray for our government leaders. We have an election coming up so we must pray for ourselves as we select candidates. God can work through them. We see this is the words the Lord offers through the prophet Isaiah. Cyrus is a pagan king and founder of the Persian Empire. As he comes to power the Israelites are under Babylonian rule. Many of them are in Exile. Expanding his empire, Cyrus defeats the Babylonians and allows the Israelites to return home.
Human thought would Cyrus the credit for the building of the Persian Empire and defeat of the Babylonians goes to Cyrus’ ability as a great king. Cyrus himself might give some of the credit to the false god Marduk whom he worships.
Speaking as a prophet of the one true God, Isaiah tells us that the reason for Cyrus’ success is simple. It’s not because of his own greatness or any false god. Rather, even though Cyrus is a pagan, it is God who has given him these victories.
Why? “For the sake of Jacob my servant”. God has not taken away Cyrus’ free will. Cyrus remains free to do as he wishes yet he chooses to be open to doing what is right.
God can and does the same thing today. Sometimes we have our doubts about our world and government leaders. There are people leading countries with motives of greed and power. In our own country, we see government leaders who do not share our values.
What are we to do?
We pray and we stand up for what we believe in, for what God tells us is right.
How are we to endure?
With faith, love and hope. Through the gift of faith given to us by God, knowing the love Jesus reveals to us on the Cross, and the hope we have because of that love, we endure. We can face struggles. We might feel like we face an impossible situation. Under Babylonian rule, the Israelites wondered if there was any hope of freedom. Through faith they kept hope.
May we always endure through prayer our sufferings to live in the faith, hope, and love that is God’s gift to us.