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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 22 October 2023 Isaiah 45:1, 4-6 ><}}}}*> 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5 ><}}}}*> Matthew 22:15-21
We are now getting closer toward the end of our liturgical calendar with our gospel scenes of Jesus still at the temple area in Jerusalem where his enemies were growing more intense in banding together to trap him for his arrest and crucifixion.
Many times, that same die-hard religious conceptions of the Lord’s enemies continue to distort our way of Christian living today. First of these is the apparent division between the realms of the world or Caesar and of God and his kingdom.
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 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.”
Matthew 22:15-16, 17-21
It’s election fever again in the country (does it ever end?) when talks on the separation of the Church and the state abound in every corner of campaigns and discussions. What is very funny is despite everyone’s insistence of such separation, candidates keep on going to every church and chapel of all faith to meet their religious leaders and followers who in turn endorse some of them!
Then and now, the division was more clearly in our hearts than in religion and political life. Despite everyone’s endless quoting of the Lord’s declaration to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, we remain more divided as a people and individuals right in our hearts where the first casualty is Jesus Christ. Then us and our loved ones.
The way of God as Jesus had shown and taught us is not found in opposing civil and religious or spiritual realms of life but in giving ourselves for the good of others in all areas of life, first to God and everything follows. Jesus Christ came to the word to heal our divided hearts, to make us whole again (and be holy) by showing us how we are all one in God, our origin and end. St. Francis of Assisi saw this unity of God’s creation and was so central in his life and teachings that he was able to literally live out the gospel values of both material and spiritual poverty.
There are no divisions between the material world and the spiritual world because everything is created by God, came from God and will ultimately end in God. “Caesar” is everything of the world we so often give more emphasis in life, more attention and more focus. Primary is our own self as we consciously and unconsciously stamp with the image and inscription of “Caesar” as we try to hide and remove God’s image in us.
See how Jesus in many instances did not bother himself with our worldly affairs like being a judge to divide the share of inheritance of feuding brothers (Lk. 12:13-15) or of James and John asking him to have them seated at his sides when his glory comes (Mk. 10:35-45) because those things separate us from God and each other.
One tragedy of Christ’s time that continues today is when we the supposed religious leaders and guides are divided within each of us, so concerned with our own pride and other priorities in life like fame and wealth. Forgive us your priests and bishops whose lifestyle and way of relating to others betray like the Pharisees who and what is first in our lives.
Keep in mind how the Pharisees were not supposed to have anything that bears semblances of idolatry in the temple area like the Roman coin with image and inscription of the Caesar considered as god and emperor by the Romans. We priests and bishops still have that “Roman coin” today in the form of social media especially Facebook that show and prove more than ever how we are a church for the rich and not of the poor no matter what the gospel and documents say. What a scandal of our time to find priests and bishops shamelessly posted on social media always present, readily available especially for funeral Masses of the rich but never or so rare with the poor! These only prove to the people of the existence of the great divide among us Jesus had supposedly healed more than 2000 years when churchmen continue to play these days the very game of the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests and elders of Christ’s time.
When we examine world history, it has actually felt easier for us to divide our lives into the material and spiritual realms by giving what is due and proper to each one. This has been the way of the world especially in the past 300 years at the start of the Industrial Revolution that resulted in so many inventions and scientific breakthroughs that have spawned various thoughts and philosophies.
On the outside or in the realm of Caesar, we seem to be better with more technologies and affluence but as persons, we have remained lost and more hurting inside that drive many into suicides and depression. How ironic when we are supposed to be better, crimes against human persons get worst these days with wars and atrocities still happening. Life may had drastically improved especially in the fields of medicine and communications but the gaps among us peoples have grown wider especially these last 20 years known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” characterized by digitization and robotics that include Artificial Intelligence or AI. Like in the parable of the wicked tenants, we have usurped everything from God, even our very lives and the world itself.
Of course, the obligations to Caesar and to God are radically different: to the state we pay taxes, but to God we give our undivided hearts, our total being. This is what Isaiah told us in the first reading that everything in history is directed by God for the good of his people. He is the God of history. Let no one mistake any god for God because “I am the Lord, there is no other” (Is.45:6).
When Jesus asked his enemies to show him the coin that pays the census taxes, he is also asking us this Sunday to bare our hearts before him to let him heal us of the divisions within that are reflected by the many wars and divisions in the world. The deepest divide within us in this time is when we live and act like the Pharisees and Herodians with insincere hearts living a big lie of living in “accordance with the truth” (Mt. 22:16).
Let me end this reflection with those beautiful words by St. Paul in our second reading today:
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 oved 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.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-5
So lovely! St. Paul is also talking to us today, assuring us how despite our many sins, of being slaves of Caesar and other gods like the Thessalonians who were pagans before, we too were willed by God to be called as his children in Jesus Christ.
We in the Church are a people despite our many flaws and imperfections especially us your priests were called out of sin and darkness to be God’s own people, beloved children. He has given us life in the Holy Spirit that when we look back in our lives, we are convinced in our hearts it was him who worked in us in the realm of material world. God has always been the “invisible hand” leading us when we felt so down and lost, defeated and almost dead. Here we are, still alive and forging on amid the many difficulties we encounter within and outside us.
When we cooperate with the grace of God and focus more on him than to the many Caesars, when we live in faith in Christ, laboring in his love for others, God becomes more present in our material world, enabling us to endure further life’s challenges in hopes that Jesus Christ will come again. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead.