Hearts on Fire; Feet on the Move: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – Mission Sunday
Sermon and Christian Act in The Word
Theme for 29th Sunday: The Scope of Authority! Civil or Spiritual Authority or both! Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar; give to God what belongs to God!
Theme for Mission Sunday: ‘Hearts on fire; feet on the move’ (Pope Francis)
First Reading: Isaiah 45:1, 4–6
Psalm: Psalm 96:1, 3–5, 7–10
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5
Gospel: Matthew 22:15–21
Mission Sunday Reflection: Today, World Mission Sunday, is the day set aside by the Catholic Church throughout the world to publicly renew its commitment to its universal mission, its calling to bring the Good News of Christ to the ends of the earth. Am I the mission? Do I understand mission? Am I carrying out faithfully the work of mission?
The mission of Christ that the Church is charged and empowered to continue is to promote God’s reign ‘on earth as in heaven’. This is the heart of what is meant by the words of today’s gospel, ‘to give back to God what belongs to God’ (Mt 22:21), for everything belongs to God, and must be returned to him. Unlike the reign of Caesar, based on ruthlessly enforced power and control, which was bad news, especially for the poor, God’s reign is good news. It is a reign of love and freedom, of truth and justice. Moreover, unlike the reign of Caesar, and all earthly kingdoms, it will endure forever. As lived and proclaimed by Jesus, God’s reign meant good news for the poor, healing for the sick, and liberation for the enslaved and oppressed: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord’ (Lk 4:18-19). The Church’s missionary outreach is a great act of love.
In simple terms, we would say, Mission is not only sending out but living the mission in the heart, then, the family, then, the church, then to the entire world. The mission must be first in the heart.
Point of Reflection for 29 Sunday: Do I have respect for authority? If so, which one? The liturgy reminds us today of the place that civil authority and spiritual authority holds in our lives. We respect our parents, leaders, church officials, and all those who are responsible for various aspects of our lives as citizens of our countries. Still, their authority is subject to yet higher authority of God, and the respect and obedience we pay to them, must be grounded in how well they serve that higher authority
Sermon (Reflection): The question raised in this Sunday’s Gospel is whether, or not, to pay taxes to the civil authority. This question, however, is not simply about financial obligations towards the state, but rather a more general question about the competence, and the scope, of the civil authority over the life of the people.
The Gospel passage of today narrates an encounter between Jesus and some Pharisees which will initiate a series of disputes reported in Matthew chapter 22. This first dispute has a political character as it revolves around the payment of taxes to the Roman emperor. Taxation imposed by the Romans brought a heavy financial burden on the conquered population and was a painful reminder that the Israelites, though living in their own land, were a conquered and subjugated people.
The trap set for Jesus by his opponents posing a question about taxes was brilliant. If Jesus said “yes” to the tax, he would appear to accept and agree with the Roman occupation, which would discredit him as a patriot and the Messiah who, in the eyes of most, was to liberate the nation from the hated Roman yoke. But if Jesus said “no” to the tax, he could be immediately accused of being a rebel and revolutionary and denounced by the Roman authorities. For this reason, the Pharisees sent their disciples “along with the Herodians” who, as supporters of Herod Antipas, were collaborating with the Romans. In his answer, Jesus not only brilliantly avoided the trap, but also used it as an opportunity to deliver his teaching on the limits of the civil authority. His answer matched the brilliance of the trap set for him.
He asked for a “coin used for the tax”. His opponents knew and used such coins, even though they should not have, because it bore the image of the Roman emperor Tiberius with the inscription “son of the divine Augustus”. Thus, it was an idolatrous object with an image of a man claiming divinity for himself. By saying, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s”, Jesus admitted the lawfulness of paying taxes and giving to the emperor what belongs to him – a coin. However, by adding, “give to God the things that are God’s”, he placed a limitation on the emperor’s authority. The ruler may have authority over the economy, but he controls neither human life nor destiny. This answer implied that, despite his claims and beliefs of many of his subjects, the emperor is no God. Since no Jew could ever argue with that view, his opponents were left speechless.
In one sentence Jesus acknowledged the necessity of recognising the legitimacy of human authority over certain aspects of human life, showing that he was no rebel or violent revolutionary. At the same time, he indicated that humanity owes the ultimate obedience to the one to whom the entire creation belongs – God. In other words, no human leader can claim dominion over the entirety of human life and consider himself/herself equal in authority to God.
The second reading of today contains the opening lines of the first letter to the Thessalonians. This short letter of Paul to the community in Macedonia is thought to be his earliest letter preserved in the New Testament, written by the apostle from Corinth in 51 AD. Following what will become the standard pattern for his letters, Paul begins with the section called a “thanksgiving”, given to God for his blessing involved in the foundation and growth of the Church in the city. Thus, Paul first gives thanks “to God for all of you”, acknowledging that God himself brought the Thessalonian believers to faith. Second, throughout this thanksgiving, Paul evidences and acknowledges the efforts and virtues of the believers themselves, acknowledging their “work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”. As Christians, we need now and then to give glory and praise to God.
St Paul’s message of the gospel was grounded “in power and in the Holy Spirit”. Paul knew full well that he and his co-workers were only God’s agents and mediators in the proclamation and acceptance of the good news by the Thessalonians (cf. 2 Cor 2:1-5). As Christians, we are commissioned to be agents and mediators of the Gospel, by doing so, we are all doing mission, and hence, Mission Sunday is for all. Mission must flow from the heart to the world in Prayer and giving.
The first reading of today comes from the second part of the book of Isaiah, which aims at comforting the Israelites living in the Babylonian exile. In the section of Isaiah 44:24 – 45:8 from which today’s reading is drawn, the prophet offers a theological explanation for the role that the Persian king Cyrus played in ending this tragic period in Israelite history.
It must be remembered that the call of Cyrus came without Cyrus being aware of serving God’s purposes. Isaiah twice states that the Persian king acted “though you [Cyrus] do not know me”. God was able to work his purposes out through Cyrus without Cyrus prior knowledge of the Lord. Cyrus might be called an “unwitting agent” in the execution of God’s will, for the sake of Israel’s liberation. This emphasizes that the real power behind all these events was God, who steered Cyrus to carry out his will. Israel, who was invited to contemplate Cyrus’ favourable action, was reminded that their God stood behind the grant of freedom, and Cyrus’ civil authority served God’s purpose of liberation and salvation.
Christian Act in Word of God “The Scope of Authority”
The Scriptural readings of today call us to examine our attitudes towards authority. Some of us are already called to the service of authority, and some of us are aspiring to it. We ought to remember that God gives us authority for a purpose. It is not something that is meant solely for us to lord it over others. But we are called to be like Christ, who came to serve not to be served. It is only when we attune ourselves to God that we will be able to grasp the meaning and purpose of the authority he has given to us. For a Christian leader, the authority should be like that of Paul and his companions – aimed at leading the people towards the greatest good, which is God.
Let us be people who lead with good example in such a way that our friends and companions will see Christ acting and living in us. Let us be aware that in whatever group we find ourselves as leaders, small or great, we are God’s instruments wielded for the good of his own people whom we are serving. Let us not depend only on our efforts, but learn to lean on God. As to our civil authorities, we have to pay due respect to those in charge of us. However, it is also our duty to challenge their misdeeds such as corruption or neglect, realising that they do not own our lives and have no right to damage them.
Jesus faced with the challenge from the civil authority taught that God’s own authority places a limit on the civil authority. He did not condemn the civil authority, recognizing that it has its place and role in organising the state and maintaining peace in it, so that everyone can live well. However, he denied that it can claim the right to own people’s lives. Taking this lesson to heart, we are invited to be critical in our political views and allegiances. In our exercise of the right to vote and choice of our leaders, we ought to examine and evaluate them on the basis of how well they represent and follow the Christian values of service, liberation and fostering life. Our choices ought never to be determined or clouded by ethnicity, social class or empty promises, as these mean nothing when it comes to choosing leaders according to God’s heart.
Action: I will accept the Mission and have a sense of responsibility.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for the precious gifts of mission and sense of responsibility. O Lord, grant us the graces we need to carry out the task of mission which you entrusted to us. Help us to realize that you have gifted us the service of mission and authority for the purpose of guiding each other for the common good. Help us Lord to be good Christians and good citizens. This we ask through Christ our Lord, Amen.
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