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We Are Made By the Choices We Make

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXIX-A, 22 October 2017
Isaiah 45:1,4-6//1Thessalonians 1:1-5//Matthew 22:15-21

Thirty years ago Pepsi Cola came out with an ad campaign claiming “We are made by the choices we make” endorsed by celebrity couple Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez. It is still the most “philosophical” ad campaign I have seen in my whole life that I remembered it while praying over our gospel for today which is about making choices. Most stresses and anxieties we suffer are largely due to the many choices we have to make daily. That is why the world tries so hard to simplify this by narrowing our choices to just two like having Jollibee or McDonalds for burgers, watching Kapuso or Kapamilya on TV, going to Ayala Malls or SM for shopping centers, so on and so forth. That is how the world would want us to see life: simplify choices without necessarily choosing what is good or what is right but what is easier, what is more acceptable. It has actually become more of compromises than of choices that lead us to more emptiness and more confusion. It was the same situation during the time of Jesus Christ especially in terms of faith and religion.

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying…”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 to 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.”(Mt.22:15-16,17-21)

Beginning this Sunday until the coming two weeks, Jesus would be teaching important lessons by harshly confronting the scribes and Pharisees who like us would always find ways of evading His calls to love and conversion. There would be no parables this time as Jesus addresses important questions in our faith that we have often simplified, even trivialized to accommodate our whims and caprices like “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Notice that in this way of the world, humans split everything into “either, or” – a dichotomy instead of a unity as envisioned by God in the very beginning. When we look at life, it is not really that simple that it could be divided into halves, into “either, or” because we are dealing with persons who must be regarded always in his/her totality. Dividing or splitting issues into choices like atoms eliminate the person to be loved. It is so “diabolic” which is from the Greek word “dia” – to divide – like when we could not agree, we call to “divide the house” by shifting our priorities to numbers and taking sides than to what is right and just. We have become afraid of asking the essential question of “do we love?”

When the Pharisees and Herodians came to entrap Jesus with their seemingly legitimate question “is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not,” they have entirely missed the whole point about religion and faith which is all about integration and wholeness (from which the word holiness came from). Like us today, they have detached temporal life from our selves or personhood in the hope that we could be more objective in our decisions and most of all, guilt free in the end. In the late 1980’s, the sci-fi series called “The X-Files” was so popular as it showed stories about UFO’s wrapped in conspiracy theories; hence, its slogan “The truth is out there.” It was so fashionable then but we know it is totally wrong. The truth is not out there because that truth has always been inside us, right in our hearts. When we objectify our choices like the Pharisees, we prefer rules and technicalities over people and kindness and love. When Jesus said “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” He is redirecting us back to the basic truth of love which is found in our hearts. And love is always about our very selves, others and God which is the topic to be discussed next Sunday by Jesus when asked “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Examine the problems and emptiness we all deal with in life: they all stem precisely from our refusal to love, when we choose to hide, when we choose to cover-up with excuses, when we choose to fake realities.

Have some time this Sunday to watch as a family the film “Seven Sundays”. Bring a box of Kleenex for it is so lovely and so touching that would surely hit a lot of soft spots in every one. It is about the many choices we make in our family like parents choosing to stay home or work abroad for greener pastures, children choosing to be silent than express their true feelings to keep the peace and harmony, grownups choosing to hide their weaknesses and pains by pretending to be good and strong inside. Despite some corny scenes, “Seven Sundays” reminds us of the many values we seem to have forgotten as we try to balance serving our family and community, of feeling more than thinking more, and most of all, of truly loving one another. It is about how our choices in life make or break us as persons and as a family, especially when we oversimplify our choices without considering the more essential one which is choosing to love!

In the two readings before the Gospel, we have seen how God made choices too. In the first reading, God tells Isaiah how He had anointed the pagan Persian ruler Cyrus as conqueror of Babylonia to liberate the Jews enslaved there for about 50 years. It sounds crazy but it is true that God sometimes chooses unlikely people instruments of His justice and peace! In the second reading, St. Paul tells us how God had chosen non-Jews like the Thessalonians and us today as His new “chosen people” like the Israelites in the Old Testament due to our faith in Christ. The first and second readings are telling us that our God is indeed the God of history that even if we make wrong choices in life, He would always ensure that His plans are fulfilled because He loves us so much. God always takes the initiative to choose us first in everything and Jesus is now reminding us to also choose God first above all without neglecting our other duties and responsibilities in life. To “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” means that in making choices, let us keep it close to our hearts because that is where God is. Choosing God is choosing love, the very one thing we all need and long for in life! Love, love, love because you are loved!

Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II,
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan3022.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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