Homily, 22 October 2017
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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary TimeReadings: Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalms 96:1,3,4-5,7-8,9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21***"Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."***In our first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah say: “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus … I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.”Why is Cyrus, the king of Persia, God’s anointed? He wasn’t a member of the Jewish people and he worshiped other gods.He is anointed because he has a part in God’s saving plan. Cyrus will free the Jewish people from captivity and allow them to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.Now the climax of God’s providence isn’t, of course, the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, but the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus, by which the gates of heaven have been opened for us. In God’s providence, we have hope.This is what Jesus has been proclaiming: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” but the Pharisees who confront him won’t hear it. Instead, they try to tap him with a political question about paying taxes to Caesar.It’s not a trivial question, and Jesus has to take it seriously and yet deflect their way of thinking toward more important things: "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."However great Caesar’s earthly power, it is less than trivial when set against Providence. Tiberius Caesar was man, who like all other people was made in the image of God. If, as with Cyrus, God needed him to further his saving plan, then God would use him, if not, then in the end, Caesar is of little consequence.What matters then is giving to God what belongs to God. For those particular Pharisees who challenged Jesus, this meant strict obedience to law and all of its most narrow precepts. The Law for them was what you did or didn’t do. For Jesus, the Law begins with who we are: children of God, people made in his image. What we do will follow from that. Thus, the Law can be summed up in two fundamental commands:• “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”• “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Repay to God what belongs to God. What we have to repay to God is our love in gratitude for his. But how do we go about doing that?Well, if you love God, it will be obvious. But let me explain by way of a very human analogy …***When I met Janet back in college, I fell hopelessly in love. A month after we met, we had decided to marry, which we did a year and half later. But in those first few months, something happened to me:• I started going to Sunday mass every week … a bit odd for a guy who grew up in the Congregational Church and who only went to services when he went home to visit his folks.• I took lessons in Scandinavian folk dancing. In high school, I didn’t dance. I would have if I had known how, but unless someone was going to wave a magic wand and turn me in to a dancer, then it just wasn’t going to happen. But Janet and her friends liked to dance, and every week there was a Scandinavian fiddle band playing at the little community hall down the road. The place was always packed and I saw how much she loved to dance.• But here’s the strangest tale of all: in college, I lived on an island across the Puget Sound from Seattle. To get to the University I had to catch the ferry. As I recall, I took one at a reasonable hour: 8:30, 9:00 or something like that. A week after I met Janet, I caught the 5:45 boat … every morning … without fail. I wasn’t insane, I was just in love, and Janet was on that boat.Being in love changed me. I took an interest in things I hadn’t before, I did things I never would have considered.Although this is a story of romantic love, the same things happen when we experience other loves. We change when we become parents. Even finding a true friend will often change your life, though perhaps in quieter, less dramatic ways.I’ve always been amazed by how much love can change someone. I guess it’s why one of my favorite quotes is from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, who said:Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.That is how you give to God what belongs to God.