29th Sunday 2005
The other evening there was a message on my voice mail from someone who asked me to call back because this person was pretty sure that the 2nd Coming was going to come any day now and wanted to talk about it. Well, I knew I didn’t and never returned the call. Of course I felt guilty. As a pastor and priest I should be open to every and all questions. I should be attentive, compassionate, non-judgmental, certainly not dismissive of anyone’s concern. But hey, I’m not Jesus.
When I thought more about this person’s certainty, I had to admit. God that would be great. Come Lord Jesus now and settle all these conflicts and divisions within your body, the Church. Come and tell us who’s right and who’s wrong. Come and tell us how we should vote on issues. Come and tell us how we are to live as your disciples in this very complex world.
If Jesus were to come today, I wonder if that would be his agenda. Would he take sides? Would he tell us how we should think and feel? Would he tell us what side of the coin we should be on? Or would he just flip a coin and say, “Heads you win, tails you lose?”
I suspect what he would do is what he did most of the times in his life, Tell a tale, speak to us of God’s love for all, remind us how we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and invite us to a meal, take our place at the banquet table.
Jesus has a way of getting people out of their small-mindedness, letting go of their personal agendas and focusing on the heart of the message that is love of God and neighbor.
In today’s Gospel, when the religious and political authorities are trying to “trap him”, get him to say what he really thinks about paying the “kensos” or “head tax” (That’s where census comes from, head count”) and give evidence of blasphemy or political incorrectness, he turns the tables on those who are laying verbal traps for him. I wonder, if before responding to the question, he tossed a coin in his head, “Heads, I tell them that I have had it with their self-righteousness, tails, I don’t.” In this case “tails” wins out, but there are many times in Matthew’s Gospel, where “heads” wins out. He rips into his adversaries with all the anger and venom he can muster. Here he just calls them “hypocrites”.
Fr. John Wronski and I were talking last night about this and he noted that in this Gospel passage Jesus does not react with such anger because the malice is directed at him personally. It is when the authorities place the burdens on God’s people that he really “loses” it!
Jesus skillfully manages to get out of the trap set for him, using the old coin trick and at the same time shifts the focus to the “things of God”. If the image of Caesar is on the coin, give it back to Caesar, but if the image of God is imprinted on each and every person, than each and every person “belongs” to God and should be treated with respect
Jesus is so amazing in his ability to let us see what really matters.
So let me just share a moment how Jesus works with me. The other day, I came into the church, deeply disturbed by so many of the causes of division within the Church community. I won’t share with you my inner dialogue since it’s too painful and probably self-serving. Well, I just sat down in this beautiful but empty church with light streaming through the windows and all of a sudden what came to me was “my God you are so large and we are so small. Here is the height and breadth and depth of your love in this creation and our attention goes to something as small as a coin. When I finished sobbing, I recalled the 2 nd reading from today’s scripture “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. Your work of faith and labor of love.
Brothers and sisters, that is why we are here. Because God is so large and we are so small. And yet we have been entrusted with the work of faith and labor of love, we have been entrusted with the Spirit of Jesus . Paul told us Gal 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” If the Sprit is alive in us as a community of faith, laboring in love this is what we are called to live.
I don’t know if the Second Coming will be today or tomorrow but while we wait, the Spirit of Jesus is still “telling us tales, speaking to us of God’s love for all, reminding us how we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and inviting us to a meal in memory of him.