What, or who, dominates our lives?
By Tim Irwin
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Oct. 22
Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalm 96:1,3,4-5,7-8,9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21
Jesus navigates treacherous waters during his final days in Jerusalem. The Gospel for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time recounts the efforts of the Jewish religious authorities to set a trap for Jesus in search of a reason to silence him.
St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that our desire for wealth, power, honor, and sensuality, not necessarily in that order, mark the road to perdition. The Jewish religious authorities marched down this road with reckless abandonment. Jesus’s teaching concerning the Kingdom of God shined a very embarrassing light upon them. They wanted lights out.
To be of the Kingdom means to love as Jesus loves. Amazingly easy to understand and incredibly difficult to do. No worries, we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone.
“The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.’” Are these guys kidding? Do they actually believe that Jesus is a truthful man? Seems like they don’t. Why would you want to destroy the person who loves you enough to tell you the truth? Maybe their desire for wealth, power, honor and sensuality made lies seem like truth and the truth seem like lies?
The Pharisees and the Herodians continued, “And you (Jesus) are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.” Of course, he doesn’t. In the Kingdom of God, we will be who we have become in response to grace. We respond to grace most fully when we love the Father as Jesus does with our whole heart, mind, soul, and self and others as Jesus loves them. Through grace we will become our better more Christ-like selves today and our best most Christ-like selves in eternity.
STAYING THE COURSE
Having buttered Jesus up with faint praise, the Pharisees and the Herodians then spring their trap. “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” In other words, what or who dominates your life, Jesus? Is it wealth, power, honor, and sensuality, or is it God?
Jesus answers, “’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’.”
Jesus seems to be saying that we live in the world, where in his day Caesar dominated, but we are not of the world. We are called to be of the Kingdom of God. To be of the Kingdom means to love as Jesus loves. Amazingly easy to understand and incredibly difficult to do. No worries, we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone. We need others — Church — and some divine empowerment — sacraments.
The Holy Mass offers the grace needed to live in the Kingdom of God. If we’re not experiencing that while attending Mass, then maybe we’re not committed to love as Jesus loves. We really can become our better more Christ-like selves. We need to make the commitment and then practice the Holy Faith as robustly as we can. It won’t happen all at once; it takes time. We just have to stay the course and that will be difficult. We will fail; we will sin.
Living in the Kingdom of God is a struggle, as Jesus’s last days in Jerusalem so vividly illustrated. But how to begin, that’s easy. It starts with an answer to the question: What or who dominates my life?
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.