|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
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|Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time|
October 16, 2005
The first thing that comes to my mind is how Jesus is confrontational. You know, that's something that maybe most of us don't connect with Jesus that often. But if you remember the last the last few Sundays, Jesus has been in a dispute, an argument, with people who are challenging him. And he confronts them. He doesn't just back off, and he's not passive. That's important for us to know about Jesus, because as we speak about the nonviolence of Jesus and how that is so clear, sometimes you get the idea that it means passivity, but it doesn't. The way for us to try to transform our world into the fascinating power of love, through nonviolence, is not going to be passive. Jesus certainly wasn't passive today when he says to those Herodians and Pharisees immediately, "You hypocrites!" He names them for what they are.
Perhaps it's important to explore a little bit of what was going on here. Matthew says at the very beginning of the gospel that the Pharisees, the leaders who had been in these disputes with Jesus, went back to think it over, asking, "How are we going to trap him?" So they went to the followers of King Herod and got them to go with them to see Jesus. They had this question, which they think will put Jesus in a very, very impossible situation. "Do we pay taxes to Caesar or not?" The question itself is a good question. Should we pay taxes to an empire? Faithful Jewish people had to think about that very carefully. And perhaps it's a question we should think about right now. A few years ago, some of you may remember, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen who was the archbishop in Seattle, Washington, made a public declaration that he was going to refuse to pay half of his income tax to the federal government. It was his way of protesting the misuse of tax money.
The use of tax money certainly isn't any better today. I read this past week in the newsletter of the Oakland County Peace Center that, if I remember the numbers correctly, as of September our nation has spent over $160 billion on the war in Iraq. By this time it's probably $200 billion. Our tax money is being used on a war that was based on false premises and is killing so many people and devastating a whole nation. We're being told, "We're bringing democracy there because they voted yesterday." Well, in one area of the country, the only people voting were the guards at the polling booth and the ones there to count the ballots. In many parts of Iraq that was the situation. Clearly, we're not bringing democracy there. We're bringing death, devastation and destruction. Should we allow our tax dollars to go for that? I'm not going to answer that question right now, but it is a question that all of us probably need to think about once in a while. Our tax dollars should be going to provide help, social services for the poor, people without medical care, people who will be without heating and lighting this winter because heating bills will go so high.
It is a good question, but Jesus doesn't -- in one sense -- answer that question. What he does is show the hypocrisy of the Herodians and Pharisees by asking them that simple question: "Show me a coin." Right away, one of them pulls out a coin and right there in the temple precinct, they have a coin that has an image on it. The Jewish religious tradition didn't allow images, and especially not of a pagan, but on that coin was an image of Caesar. Anybody who had one of those coins had to buy it in order to enter into the economy of the empire. Having that coin shows that they were unfaithful to their own Jewish traditions, and so they were not asking Jesus an honest question. They were hypocrites because they even had this coin. But then Jesus says, "O.K., who's image is it?" They say, "Caesar's." "Well, then give it back to Caesar. Let him have what's his." It doesn't belong in the Jewish religious tradition at all, he means.
But then what Jesus added is the really important part. "Give to God what is God's."
What is God's? What belongs to God that we give back to God? Not church buildings like this, beautiful as it is. We give back to God our living worship. We gather here in this building so we can give God our praise, our love, our joy. We give back to God what is God's and all of creation is God. All of creation belongs to God. So we are stewards of that creation. We should be giving back to God a planet that is made as beautiful as possible instead of being exploited and destroyed in so many ways.
But most of all what is God's is every human person. Every human person belongs to God and what God wants from us is that we give back to God human persons in the fullness of their personhood. Being full human persons. We live in a world where the vast majority of people on this planet cannot become full human persons because they are in absolute poverty. They don't have what it takes to become a full human person: food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education. They're in absolute poverty. Because some of us have way more than we have a right to, they are deprived. They're not able to be the full human persons that God calls them to be.
Of course, if we're going to give back to God what belongs to God, this probably means some change for all of us. We have to try to understand better how distorted the world's wealth and resources are. We have to understand better how much we have to reach out to the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized. If we're going to give back what is God's -- and that is every person in their fullness as human persons -- we probably have to help to bring about a change in the direction of the Archdiocese of Detroit. And I don't say that lightly
"The Together in Faith process isn't happening in a vacuum, but is a part of the continual change that the Church of Detroit and its people have faced through their history. That's the idea behind "Changing times, A Changing Church," a special program the Catholic Television Network has put together to discuss the spiritual, theological and pastoral changes going on in the Church of Detroit."It all sounds pretty good, and the one who's leading the program
mentions that change -- such as the liturgical changes from Vatican II -- take time to adapt to. Some change even comes with sorrow. But it's important in shaping who we are as Catholics. … The church in every gathering is about change -- not only change of the elements"He means the bread and wine changed at the altar.
"but the change of us."Each of us makes a change as we read this liturgy. But then
"The dialogue concludes with a discussion of Together in Faith -- the initiative that will change the landscape of the local church in to the future. Together in Faith is meant to respond to current challenges such as shifting demographics"I always love that word. They don't talk about people -- it's demographics. We're all abstractions.
"… shifting demographics, a shortage of priests and economic challenges to both parishes and Catholic schools."So we're responding to that and as we respond, and every parish in the city is threatened with closure if we're following the demographics (which means we're following the money). We're leaving the poor behind, the ones who most of all belong to God, who we should be giving back to God. And we're leaving them behind.
In 1986 the Catholic bishops of the United States published a pastoral letter on the U.S. economy. It caught a lot of attention because it was sort of radical. You might not believe that's possible for bishops to be radical but this time they were. In that letter --when we were examining the U.S. economy and the effect it was having and who it was benefitting and who it wasn't and where the money was going and that sort of thing -- the bishops suggested that every time we make a decision within the church, in a parish, in a diocese, or for the whole Church, we should ask ourselves three questions:
If we really took this seriously, we would be reaching out to serve the poor in Detroit, in the archdiocese and beyond to other parts of the world. That's what we could be doing as a church if we really took seriously what Jesus teaches us in today's Gospel. "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's." Whatever coins or things belong to Caesar, yes, give them back. But all of us should get serious about giving back to God what is God's, what belongs to God and that is every person given back to God as a full human person.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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