Reflection for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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FIRST READING  Isaiah 45:1, 4-6

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred:  For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.  I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me.  It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me.  I am the Lord, there is no other.

SECOND READING        1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  grace to you and peace.  We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen.  For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

GOSPEL       Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.  They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.  Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.”  At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today’s readings insist that we must be aware that God is at work even in politicians and in those who govern countries.  God is truly almighty and is able to bring about good in every situation—even when we or those who govern resist His Word.  Always we are called by the Scriptures to acknowledge that God is truly God and all powerful and in charge of all that happens.  Such a view of our world does not leave out our own self will by which we choose either to follow the word o God or to reject that word.

The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah.  This passage tells of the presence of the God of Israel in the life of Cyrus.  There are many references to Cyrus in the Old Testament because it was under Cyrus that the Babylonian Captivity came to an end and the Jewish people were able to return to their own land and rebuild the temple.  What is important in this reading is that it is God who is acting through Cyrus.  Even non-Jewish—and later even non-Christian—rulers can be and are used by the Lord God to bring about His will and His plans.

The second reading is from the beginning of the First Letter to the Thessalonians.  We can look again at the sentence:  “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”  The Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—always comes to us in people, not just in words, but in deeds.  There are some people who are able to read the Scriptures and be converted, but most of us are baptized into the Church by our families or we convert because of the example of someone.  When we meet a person who is on fire with faith and who is able to speak clearly and correctly about the Scriptures, we meet the kind of person that Saint Paul wants to bring the Gospel to others.  You and I should be that kind of person:  able to speak about our faith and believing so deeply in the Lord Jesus that His presence radiates out of us.

Of course we might not be that way all of the time, but it is a goal because in that way the Gospel is brought to people and people are brought to Jesus Christ and His Church.

Today’s Gospel from Saint Matthew brings us back to the challenge of living in a world that is not Christian and learning how to live with politicians and civil governors.  The Gospel gives us the account of the Herodians trying to trap Jesus by having Him be against the government.  Instead, Jesus goes right around their arguments and simply tells them that civil government has to be obeyed insofar as it is not a Church matter.

Today in many countries, civil governments are beginning to make laws that will make Christians have to live against the law.  In the areas of sexuality, sexual identity, marriage, abortion and euthanasia, the civil governments are moving in directions completely against the teachings of our Lord.  And there is very little civil discourse about these matters.  Societies are being polarized and Christians who want to be faithful are being seen as old fashioned, out of date and against others.  We can give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we cannot give to Caesar that which belongs to God.

So we are called today to prepare ourselves for conflict and for being judged badly and for being seen as old-fashioned.  In fact, we might even have to suffer for our beliefs.  Let us trust that God will always give us the strength to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and His Church.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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