Saturday, October 18, 2014

Give to God what belongs to God

29th Sunday of OT year A 2014:
Today Jesus is put into a real tough spot.  Should you pay the census tax or not?  It is important to know a little bit about the background.  Remember that Jesus was living in a land that was under the control of the Roman Empire.  The people of Israel felt oppressed by this external ruler.  When it comes to paying the census tax, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus.  If he says it is ok to pay the census tax, the Pharisees would have said he is not being true to the independence of the people of Israel.  But, if he were to say it was wrong to pay the tax, he would have been called a dissident or a revolutionary.  But, Jesus doesn’t get trapped.  Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. But, give to God what belongs to God.
            But, for me the statement of Jesus leads to a question, one that each of us has to answer: what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?
In the gospel, Jesus asks a simple question about the coin: whose image and whose inscription is on it?  The coin was stamped in the image of Caesar and his words were written on it.  So, the coin belonged to Caesar.  What is made in the image of God?  What has his words written on it?
Of course the answer to that question is all of us.  We are made in God’s image.  We have his words written on our hearts.  God has made us in his own image and likeness.  He has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit in baptism.  So, not only are we created in God’s likeness, we are recreated by him by the sacraments.  We came from God; we are recreated by God through Grace.  Everything we have comes from him; everything we are comes from him.
I find it interesting that the Pharisees are trying to pull Jesus into a political squabble and he changes everything.   Rather than answer a relatively small question about the census tax, he reminds them that our whole being belongs to God.  Everything belongs to him.
This phrase has been good for me this week.  It has given me a good chance to do some praying about my relationship with God in my life.  If everything belongs to God, do I live like that?  Do I spend my time for his glory?  Do I give my best effort in all that I do as a repayment of what God has done for me?  Do I seek to build up God’s kingdom by what I say and do?  Do I make a return to God for all the blessings he has bestowed on me?  Do I use the goods of this earth for God’s glory?
I would like to invite all of you to do the same this week with this passage.  Listen again to the words of Jesus.  Give to God what belongs to God.  Our whole lives belong to God, nothing should be separate from him.  Let’s think about marriage as a good analogy.  What if I had a couple who came to me looking to get married.  They tell me they got engaged and they want to have their marriage here at St. Jude.  The only thing is, the groom tells me that he doesn’t want to be married on Tuesdays.  All the other days of the week he wants to be married and be committed to his bride.  But, Tuesdays would be off limits.  Tuesdays he would be single, the rest of the week he would be a married man.  We would all say that is crazy!  Being married means to give yourself completely to your spouse, to hold nothing back.

What about our relationship with God?  Do we hold something back?  Is there a place we need to grow, something we need to let go of?  I know that when I prayed about this over the last week I saw places where I need to grow.  I think it will be the same for all of us.  So take this phrase with you this week and don’t be afraid to give your life over to God: give to God what belongs to God.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The banquet on the mountain

28th Sunday of OT year A 2014:
Today we get to hear one of my favorite readings.  In fact, this first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is one of the options for the funeral mass.  I have often said that I want this reading read at my own funeral mass.  Mostly, because it talks about the great banquet of the Lord.  Doesn’t it sound amazing: on the mountain the Lord of hosts will provide a banquet full of rich foods and choice wines.  You have to imagine that if God, the maker of heaven and earth, was going to throw a banquet, it would be a great feast.  Not simply rubbery chicken served in a buffet, but rich foods and choice wines.  I love this reading, mostly because I love food.  I imagine this feast serving up thick slabs of prime rib, mashed potatoes, and finished with cherry pie.  Mmmm, sounds good doesn’t it.
But, no matter how nice that meal sounds, and it sounds great.  It pales in comparison to the next promise the prophet conveys.  Not only will the Lord set a wonderful banquet for us on the mountain, but next he is going to destroy death.  If we start to think about that great feast, it still follows the normal rules of our earthly existence.  But, God has much more in store for us than simply a nice meal.  Rather, this meal will lead into a new existence.  God will destroy death.
No wonder joy follows.  It says that God will wipe away every tear.  I can certainly see that happening.  We get this amazing banquet and God is going to destroy death.  No wonder the tears will be wiped away. 
It is helpful to remember that this message was proclaimed around 500 years before the time of Christ.  So, even before the birth of Christ, the prophet was preparing the people for something amazing: God is preparing to destroy death.
As Christians, we know that Christ is the fulfillment of this prophecy.  In Christ, we have the amazing banquet.  In Christ, we see death destroyed.
It is easy to see the Cross of Christ as that mountain, that peak where God reaches down to touch the human race.  We see Christ lifted up on the cross, standing between God and Man: God reaching down to pull up humanity.  On the cross, Jesus destroys death.
Of course, the banquet that Christ gives us is a foretaste of that eternal banquet.  This is not a feast of beef and potatoes, but a feast where Christ gives himself to us.  Right here in the Holy Eucharist we see this prophecy of Isaiah being fulfilled.  Right here on this mountain, the Lord prepares a banquet of rich food and choice wine. 
You notice that the folks who designed our Church had the mountain in mind.  Notice how the altar is placed on the highest peak in the Church?  This is the mountain where God feeds us the banquet of the Eucharist.  On this mountain, we live again the saving sacrifice of Christ, where death is destroyed.  This mountain helps us to wipe away our tears, helps us to find the strength we need to face whatever life might throw at us. 

There are many of us facing difficulties right now: sickness in our families, financial difficulties, sadness, or grief.  It seems like the news is always dire: ebola, terrorism, financial uncertainties.  It is a good thing we have this mountain.  Just as the people of Israel were given hope by Isaiah when he told them about this mountain, when we approach this altar, when we climb this mountain, we find God, we find hope, we find strength.  Here we find a place where God wipes away the tears from our eyes.  Right here at this altar we can repeat the words of the prophet: “behold our God, to whom we looked to save us, let us rejoice and be glad.”