18 October 202029 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
29 Ordinary Time

Twenty-Ninth Sunday of the Year - Cycle A - Matthew 22:15-21

A priest in a homily asked: "Would it not be wonderful if schools got all the money they needed to educate kids and the generals had to hold cake sales and ticket raffles for their bombs?"

The priest was told by an angry parish council to stick to spiritual affairs and avoid politics. The council used today's Gospel as the final nail in his summary court martial: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." The wounded priest took the advice of his Employer Jesus in Luke 9:5. He shook the dust of the town from his feet.

Let's run this parish council critique by Moses.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, `I have seen the affliction of my people and I would deliver them from the pharaoh.' Moses replied, `Lord, perhaps I should fall on my knees and say unto pharaoh, `Let my people go.' The Lord said angrily unto Moses, `Thou art a man of God, not a lobbyist or politician. Mind thine own business.'

"Moses held his tongue. The Jews fled Egypt and reached the Red Sea. The Egyptians pursued them. The Jews cried to Moses, `Part the Red Sea so that we may pass on dry ground. Then allow the waters to close again and swallow up our enemies.' Moses grew hysterical, `I am a man of God, not a hydraulic engineer. Nor do I concern myself with military matters. Buy thee a nuclear bomb.'

"The Jews entered the Desert of Sinai. They wandered for forty years. Finally they begged Moses, `Guide us to the promised land of milk and honey.' He answered, `Get tour guides to lead thee. I stick to mine prayers.'

"Thirsty, they begged Moses to smite the rock and bring forth water. He replied, `Dost thou ask a man of God to develop a Sinai Water Plan? Call thee a plumber.'

"Moses went up to Mount Sinai. The Lord said, `I have written ten commandments.' Moses asked, `Lord, shall I read them to your people?' The Lord replied hotly, `It is not for thee to introduce legislative programs. Don't meddle in politics.'

"The Jews approached the promised land. Moses taught them canasta and bridge and organized bazaars and dances. He grew in the respect of his flock. On his death bed, he advised his successor Joshua, `Avoid controversy. Flee strife. Care not for the hunger or thirst of thy flock. All who follow this creed will be respected men of God. Thou wilt be dull and alienate the young, but at least no one will attack thee.'" (Unknown)

Moses was of course a controversial fellow. He was deeply involved in the physical needs of the Jews. Without him, they might have remained in Egypt building pyramid high risers.

But so too was our Jesus a man of controversy. He argued with public authorities. He publicly badmouthed a king. He picked up a whip to expel greedy bankers from His Temple. He was concerned not merely with the souls of people but their bodies as well. Why else would He perform miracles to feed them when hungry and cure them when sick?

If one listens to politicians, you get the impression that God has died and left them in charge.

If politicians are in charge, how come thirty million Americans are hungry today, five to seven million are homeless, forty-two million are without health insurance, and twenty-five percent of US children live in poverty?

So, to conclude that "give Caesar what is Caesar's..." confines the Church to narrowly defined spiritual parameters is a bad reading of today's Gospel. Christians, who ask critical moral questions in whatever area, take their stand with Moses and more importantly Jesus. The record shows Caesar is often wrong.

The Church must demand that justice come raining down like a waterfall. It is the politicians' job to fix the plumbing. Raising moral questions will make us controversial. But if Jesus and Moses ran that risk, should we bury our heads in the sand?

Some Christians and parish councils seem to believe Jesus was passing by a cross, jumped up, and committed suicide. In fact, Christ raised many upsetting questions. People murdered Him so He would shut up and not disturb their conscience. It was His plan to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. That should be our intent. Christians should be the most exciting people in the country. A good measuring rod is this. If everyone in our society agrees with us or we agree with everybody, we are doing something wrong. We must examine our conscience. We must not take the strong message of Christ and turn it into fat free ice cream.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
29 Ordinary Time

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Doing Our Bit

In the first reading for this Sunday, the Prophet Isaiah, actually the Second Isaiah, makes a startling statement. He refers to King Cyrus of Persia, a pagan, as someone who has been anointed by God. A pagan as the Messiah? Definitely unheard of in the Hebrew communities. Isaiah calls Cyrus anointed because God used him to restore the people of Israel from their exile. Cyrus was the king of Persia. The Hebrew people were being held in Babylon. They had no strength of their own. They just had faith that somehow God would deliver them from their bondage. And God did. Nations fell before Cyrus. Kings ran from him. Babylon fell. One of Cyrus’ first acts in Babylon was to restore the captive peoples to their homelands. The Jews returned to Judea. It was as shocking and as sudden as the fall of communism at the end of the last century. The prophets had said that the Babylonian captivity was a temporary punishment from God for the crimes of the people of Judea. They prophesied that when the time of punishment was complete, God would restore His People to Judea and Jerusalem. God used Cyrus to fulfill his promise. Cyrus, in the eyes of the writer of Second Isaiah, was anointed, chosen by God to complete a particular mission. 

The Gospels relate a second shocking statement regarding a pagan ruler. This time the statement was made by Jesus. The Pharisees and Herodians plotted together to frame a gotcha question to Jesus. First of all, the Pharisees and the Herodians had little in common. The Pharisees were very strict in their interpretation of the law. They had intricate, detailed laws and rituals all carrying great weight and all meant to preserve a fundamental commandment of God. For example, the commandment, “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath,” was to be preserved from declaring that there can be no work on the Sabbath. The concept of work was intricately defined. There was a set number of steps that one could take when carrying a water bucket from a well. If the well was one step further, then the Sabbath would be violated.

The Herodians were the exact opposite. They were extremely loose. King Herod was hardly a Jew at all. He was a recent convert to Judaism, doing so only so he could be named King of Galilee. Like his father, who called for the killing of the innocents at the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod had hardly any conscience. He had an affair with his brother’s wife, then divorced his own wife and married her. This is the woman called Herodias. She probably took on the name of her new husband. She was the woman who had her daughter demand the head of John the Baptist. John the Baptist had condemned the King’s immorality.

The Pharisees and Herodians had one thing in common: they both wanted to discredit Jesus before the large crowds that followed him. So they asked their gotcha question: “Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus said, “No” the Herodians would certainly report him to the Romans as seditious. If He said, “Yes,” the Pharisees would tell the people that this proves that Jesus was not a real Jew but a collaborator with the pagan Romans. Jesus turned the tables by saying, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” He was telling them to recognize their responsibilities to the Romans, and more than this, recognize their responsibilities to their God. 

Actually, the Roman Empire turned out to be a vehicle for the spread of the Kingdom of God. Roman roads, Roman trade routes, the Pax Romana, the general peace that Rome brought after they conquered almost everyone, the unity of most of the then known world under the Romans, all provided a means for the Christian missionaries to travel long distances and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, like Cyrus, God used those no one would expect to promote his plans, the pagan Romans. 

God used pagans to accomplish his plans. How much more will He use us who are His People? God has a plan for each one of us, which is all part of His divine plan for the human race. Every one of us is called to make the presence of God real in the world. Since we are each unique, the presence that we each bring to the world is a reflection of God the world never saw before and will never see again. He uses each one of us for His Divine Purpose.

Those who are married can validly say, “God created me to love Him through the love I give to my spouse and my children. No woman, no man, has ever been loved the way that I am able to love my spouse. No children have ever been loved in the way that I can love my children. When I choose to step away from selfishness and love as God loves, sacrificially, then I can play my part in the Divine Plan.” Those who are not called to the sacrament of marriage can recognize that God has another way for them to promote and strengthen his kingdom. And our young people can say, “I was created to love God at this stage of my life as a child or Teen seeking out the course God has set for me. At the same time I am also called to make Him present in my school in the way I live my faith and in the ways that I reach out to those who are hurting.”

During World War II, that horrible war of four generations ago, the British people had a saying that defined everyone’s part in the war. They called it “doing my bit.” That bit might be that of an infantryman charging a bunker, an airman flying over enemy territory, a seaman working at the destruction of enemy submarines, or any role played in the military, even a clerical noncombatant role. That bit might be the work of a citizen at home supporting the war effort, growing extra crops, donating blood, working extra hours in the munitions factory. That bit might seem like little to some, but every single action of the military as well as those of each of the citizens all led to the eventual victory of the British over those attacking their country. Those who died in the war were heroes. Their bit cost them their lives. Those who lived might not be remembered on war memorials, but their bit had lasting value to the people of Great Britain.

Well, all of us have our bit to play in the work of the Kingdom of God. That bit might be something of which everyone is aware, or that bit might be something that no one sees but God himself. It really does not make a difference whether our bit is known or not. What matters is that our effort leads to the eventual victory of the Kingdom of God over the forces of evil that attack His world. 

We have to stay attuned to the Presence of God in our lives, so that we can come to a deeper understanding of what it is that God wants from each of us, His call is deep within our hearts. If our hearts are closed to God, if our hearts are muddied with the immorality of the world, then we will not be able to discern the path God is calling us to fulfill his plan for us. But, if we do our best to be good Catholics, living our faith, then we will come to an understanding of the directions the Lord wants us to take so that we might do our bit in His plan for mankind.

God used the pagan King Cyrus of Persia and the pagan Romans as instruments in the fulfilling of His plan. How much more will He use us, the people He has ushered into an intimate sharing of His life? No one is insignificant in the battle for the Kingdom of God. Every one of us has a role to play in that Kingdom. We are all part of His Plan. May we have the courage to do our bit.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
29 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
29 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
29 Ordinary Time

The Pharisees decide to trap Jesus. They have taken enough stick from him and now they decide it is pay back time.

St Matthew’s Gospel is put together in several great sweeps. First there is the Genealogy and the Infancy Narratives, then we move to the Baptism of Jesus and his Temptation in the Wilderness, after which we come to the call of the disciples and the Sermon on the Mount. Then he presents us with a series of miracles interspersed with teaching. Jesus then spends a period instructing the Apostles. After this comes a period of teaching of the people by means of parables interspersed with various events such as the Beheading of John the Baptist and the Transfiguration.

We then get to the expulsion of the traders from the Temple and Jesus’ authority is questioned by the Chief Priests and Elders. After all, by entering the Temple he has entered their territory as they see it and has consequently become a threat to them. Jesus answers them with the parables we have heard these last three Sundays.

The first was about the labourers in vineyard being hired at the eleventh hour; then we had one about the wicked tenants who kill the master’s son and then came last weeks about the wedding feast. All these parables are very pointed and obviously directed against the Chief Priests and leaders of the people.

So now they plot against him, trying to trick him by asking whether it is right to give tribute to Caesar. If he answers that it is permissible then he is guilty of co-operating with the oppressor and loses credibility with the Jews. If he answers that it is not permissible then he is guilty of rebellion and can be denounced to the Romans. They think they’ve got him.

Jesus shows himself to be much cleverer than they first thought. He first accuses them of hypocrisy and of setting a trap and then easily evades the question turning it instead into a spiritual challenge to them. He challenges them on their own ground demanding to know if they render to God what belongs to him. This makes them back off very quickly.

But they don’t back off for long. Soon enough the Sadducees return asking tricky questions about the resurrection and then the Pharisees have a go by asking about the greatest commandment. Jesus has had enough by then and he launches into quite a tirade about the hypocrisy of the leaders of the people.

After a few more parables about the end-times Matthew quickly moves us on to the events of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

That is quite a breathtaking sweep. In about forty pages of any normal Bible Matthew gives us a complete overview of the life of Jesus. He covers the principal events of his ministry, gives us a summary of his teaching and a clear understanding of who he is and his crucial role in the salvation of the world.

Not bad for forty pages. There are probably far less words in St Matthew’s Gospel than you would read in your average Sunday newspaper. That only leaves one little question--when did you last read it?

I remember visiting Glasgow and going to see that great picture by Salvador Dali entitled Christ of St John of the Cross. My cousin was studying medicine there and she went with me together with her current boyfriend.

He was a young Scandinavian photographer in his early twenties and had been brought up with no concept of God or religion whatsoever. He asked me quite simply and directly what the picture was all about. I was taken aback at the challenge of explaining from scratch the whole story of salvation to someone who had never heard it.
Of course, I did my best, as any of you would have done. Incidentally, the thing that he found most difficult was why Christ’s sacrifice was necessary because he had no understanding of the concept of sin. I had up to that point assumed that even a person who didn’t believe in God but was brought up in our society would have a basic understanding of the principles of Christianity because it is transmitted through our culture. But I now realise that this is increasingly not the case.

You would be quite astonished at how few teenagers know the Our Father; while this is definitely a religious deprivation it is also an extraordinary cultural deprivation. Increasingly we who believe are going to be put on the spot and asked to explain our beliefs to those who have absolute no prior knowledge of God and Jesus Christ.

Years ago, when we asked our teachers why we had to learn our catechism we were told, “In case you meet a Protestant and they ask you questions.” Nowadays Protestants don’t quiz us anymore, perhaps because sectarianism has declined and we realise we have too much in common. But perhaps it is also because there are far less of them around anymore. We are far more likely to be quizzed by people who haven’t the first clue about the things of God, by people who have never even considered that there might be a God.

We need to constantly re-examine our faith, we need to sit down and study the Gospels, we need to spend more and more time in prayer and thought, and we need to join in discussions on religious matters so that we are properly equipped to proclaim and explain our faith in Christ. We need to get that Bible off the top shelf and dust it down and read it; that is if there is one there in the first place!

When Jesus demands of the Pharisees if they give to God what belongs to God he is also asking us the very same question. We ought to ask ourselves if we have given the time and the thought and the application needed to bring us to a true appreciation of his action in the world sufficient to enable us to explain ourselves to those with no knowledge of God.

The world is thirsting for the spiritual; spirituality is the new word on the lips of many people today. They do not know that spirituality comes not from within ourselves but is a direct gift from God. We are his messengers, his means of communicating with them. Let us prepare ourselves adequately for this vital ministry.

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