Sunday, October 19, 2014

29th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 22: 15-21 - "Render Unto Caesar"

Raise your hand if you like to pay taxes!

See, we’re not much different from the Jewish community of Jesus’ time or for that matter most other communities since the grand idea of taxation popped into a ruler’s head.  While we may understand the concept behind the idea of taxes and may even agree that taxes serve the common good, we still chafe at the thought and apply an extra sharp pencil at tax time.

The Jews, and in particular, the Pharisees, did not like paying the tax to Caesar, Tiberius.  The Jews disliked having a foreign ruler whose troops occupied their homeland.  The tax reminded them of their yoke of subjugation and was viewed as an infringement on the Divine Right of God over His chosen people.  

The tax was to be paid by every person from the age of puberty to 65 years and payable in Roman coin, the Denarius, which was valued at about a day’s wages for a laborer.  This second part of the tax requirement was the part the Pharisees mostly objected.  The Denarius, a silver coin minted under official Roman control, bore the image and inscription of Tiberius, whose image they found blasphemous and therefore, unacceptable.
But we have here a second group confronting Jesus together with the Pharisees, the Herodians.  Both trying to trap him into committing an act of treason.  This other group were followers of the puppet king Herod, whom the Romans placed over the people.  

The Romans, when occupying a foreign land, liked to place local rulers in charge, so they had someone on the scene, like Herod, who knew the people; to better keep peace and, most importantly, collect the taxes to due Rome.  The Romans had a neat trick for ensuring they received the proper amount of money due to them.  The local ruler paid the tax upfront to Rome; leaving, in this case Herod, to recoup his payout from the local tax collection.  So, you have the Herodians who liked the tax because they had a vested interest in its collection to keep their king in power.

The Pharisees and Herodians were strange bed-fellows, united together in the common cause of removing Jesus who threatened their way of life.  The Pharisees stood to lose their religious prestige and power over the people and the Herodians saw their tax collecting in jeopardy due to Jesus’ powerful preaching and healing of the people.  A wrong answer by Jesus could cause the people to rebel; ending their way of life.

Together, they plan a trap for Jesus by asking him, “Is it lawful or not to pay the census tax to Caesar?”  This was the equivalent of asking: Have you stopped cheating on your taxes?  Either answer causes Jesus a problem. 

As the story tells us, Jesus knew their evil intention and avoided directly answering their question.  He asked them to show him the tax coin, which only a Herodian would be able to produce, then taking the coin, told them to, “. . . render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God.”

Jesus’ answer is not an endorsement of the tax or the right of rulers to levy taxes, as many people believe.  Jesus does not specify what belongs to Caesar.  But for the last several weeks we have heard in the Gospel message of what belongs to God.
No ruler has legitimate authority unless God allows it.  All that Caesar had comes from God.  Even in the death and destruction wrought his Caesar’s name upon other civilizations came about due to God’s plan, His Divine purpose. 

It is God’s endorsement and approval rulers need to seek.  Their power and authority to rule over God’s people, using God’s gifts come from God, not from themselves.  They need to be reminded that they, as we all, are stewards of God’s creation and His gifts of all resources meant for all people – for all generations – until the end of time.  God’s gifts are not for our own earthly ends.

In Isaiah, the king Cyrus ruled and conquered only as the anointed of God.  Cyrus’ temporal authority, though he knew God not, was given him for God’s purpose, not man’s.  We are His holy people, He is our God.  He alone is the Lord, there is no other. ~Amen

Deacon Don

Saturday, October 11, 2014

28th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 22: 1-14 - "Put on Christ"

“Come one!  Come all!
A banquet is offered.
A feast is prepared.
All are invited into the palace to partake of the generosity of our host.
Sumptuous foods are prepared.  The choicest wines are available.
Come, eat and be satisfied.  Drink, quench your thirst.

All is ready.  Be welcomed to the table of our host.
He has made all preparation for your enjoyment and comfort.
He has selected the finest from among his bountiful larder.

Come one!  Come all!
Make ready to be received in gladness and joy!

Today we see a God who provides all for His people.  He is a God who loves His people so much as to see to their every need.  In Isaiah, in the 23rd Psalm, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and in the Gospel of Matthew, we see a God who makes available for us the finest of food and drink; satisfying all our needs.  We see a God who heals our wounds and comforts our sorrows, a God who protects us from evils and gives us hope, a God who invites us into His Kingdom where we will freely partake in all the riches of His love.  
This is a God of compassion; generous and loving, who desires all peoples to be with Him; sharing in all He has.

On Sunday all people of this community are invited to the Mother of Mercy parish picnic.  All are invited to be community with one another, to enjoy the company of one another, the share with one another our life in Christ in this community of invited guests.  While this feast may pale in comparison with the banquet of the Lord, it is still a banquet of His people who are joined together through their professing belief in His Son, Jesus Christ.

He calls us together to love one another as He loves us and to be with one another as He is with us.  As we are united with Christ, we are united with all Others, especially among ourselves as a Christian community.  Our God calls us, not only to be with Him, but to be with one another in communion with Him.  For it is in loving the Other that we find the love of God.

So, dress for a wedding feast. Prepare to enter the palace.  Put on Christ.  Come, clothed in holy attire, into the feast of the Lord.  Partake of the joy and love of God found in His people, the community known as Mother of Mercy.  Put aside all busyness: 

  • awake from the deadliness of lethargy, 
  • cast aside all fears and doubts, 
  • turn away from the things that distract, 
  • ignore the false promises of the evil one
  • bring an end to the excuses that keep separated from our God - through His holy people.  

Receive with great joy and excitement the Lord’s invitation to share in His bounty!  Be welcomed into the light of His banquet hall (or in this case, the sunshine in the parish parking lot). Come, satisfy your hunger and slake your thirst on the feast of the Lord found in His people.  Taste and see the goodness of the Lord living among His beloved.  

Be among the chosen.  Put on Christ.  Attire yourselves in holy array, clothe yourselves in the Lord’s love, stand in His light and partake of His life.  Accept God’s invitation and welcome into His holy feast - for in refusing, we cast ourselves out into darkness, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth. ~Amen.

Deacon Don

Monday, October 6, 2014

27th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 22: 33-43 - "In the Lord's Vineyard"

In both the First Reading from Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew we have the use of a vineyard to express the gifts of God to His people.  In both passages we have:

A landowner who invests time, expenses and loving care to create a bountiful garden.
He prepares the soil; making it fertile for good growth
He selects choice vines to grow luscious fruit
He puts up a hedge and a wall to keep out marauding animals
He constructs a wine press to process the fruit at maturity
He erects a watchtower to guard against outsiders
The landowner creates a beautiful garden that will give life abundantly to his chosen tenants.  But in each vineyard things go astray.

In the garden of Isaiah, the fruit that develops is not the luscious, life-giving fruit the landowner intended.  Those who tend His garden have allowed wild grapes to grow.  Their neglect has allowed other vines to grow; bearing fruit that is useless for making wine, barely fit to eat, and some are deadly to consume.  Through their disregard for and misuse of the landowner’s gifts of the garden, these tenants have not returned to Him the yield he sought and have made his vineyard an unprofitable disgrace.

In the vineyard of Matthew we see the actions of the tenants misappropriating the gifts of the landowner’s garden.  Here they redirect the gifts for their own use; failing to return a profit due Him.  And when He attempts to remind the tenants that all they have come from Him, they abuse and kill his messengers.  Finally, the landowner, in hope that the tenants will come to their senses and realize that He is the giver of all they have, he sends his Son.  But the tenants; believing that, by their own labors, they are the authors of the vineyard and all it contains, plot to kill His Son.  They selfishly desire to seize ownership for themselves.

In both of these readings the tenants have forgotten - from where the gifts of the vineyard came.  Either through neglect or self-indulgence they have ignored the care, the effort and the loving benevolence of the landowner.  Through their indifference of His gifts or in their selfish desire - they fail to keep faith with Him.  

In His creation of the vineyard, in which the tenants have life through his choicest gifts, He asked a return – a share of the good fruit of the garden and faith in Him as benefactor.  But, in each vineyard He did not receive His due.  Instead, He received neglect and contempt for his gifts and abuse and bloodshed as return for His effort.  

In each vineyard He deals severely with the tenants.  In the one, He devastates the lush garden; tearing out the hedge, uprooting the vines, allowing the wild beasts to trample it and let it be overgrown with briars and thorns. He takes away the fertile ground and abundant life He provided.

In the other, He keeps the fruitful garden, but replaces the tenants with new tenants.  He gives His gifts to a people who desire life in His vineyard – a people who will keep faith in Him; – sharing in the gifts of the fruitful life He provides.  

The landowner’s mercy is shown through to His continual invitation to new tenants to live in His vineyard and share in His gifts – gifts that lead to a fruitful, nourishing life.  His offer of tenancy in the bountiful, life-giving vineyard is extended to all who desire a share in His gifts. 

He is the landowner, the creator, the provider, the benefactor - upon whose gifts we rely.  Through His generosity we receive the abundance of new life by keeping faith with Him. ~Amen

Deacon Don