Summary: The ultimate purpose of the exiles' return was to restore right worship in the Temple of the Lord, once it was rebuilt.

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Course 2020

Render Unto Cæsar

When we see clearly in the Gospel that Jesus Himself taught the Christian responsibility to be active in government affairs, we preachers are tempted to hop on that and talk about why we must vote, and pay our fair share of taxes, and obey just laws. And maybe I’ll do that today, but first we need to look at what St. Paul taught us through the church at Thessalonika.

Paul tells his first church in northern Greece that he is praying for them all the time. I have come to be very protective of my prayer time, almost every day in our local church before the Blessed Sacrament. During that time I reserve a slot for intercessory prayer for my family and those who have brought me to this point in my ministry to the Church. It appears that Paul did that with regularity. We should all do that often. We are in Christ only to the extent that we remain plugged into the Holy Trinity through Christ, and that means frequent prayer.

But here we see a special prayer from Paul, “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Wow, the three theological virtues in action! Our work of faith is whatever we do to strengthen our belief in God’s plan for us in Christ–study, teaching others, sharing our faith, especially with our children. Our labor of love is anything we do to spread the good news of God’s love and Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and the gifts poured out through the Holy Ghost’s grace. And our steadfastness of hope is tied up with keeping our eyes fixed on our ultimate end, our goal, our reward of eternal life with the Father in heaven.

God has chosen us. For some of us, the Gospel came as part of the birth package. Our parents were Catholic, or in another way Christian, and we knew Church and sacraments and Jesus and Mary from our earliest days. For others, it came later, perhaps as the result of study, or maybe as a kind of “hit in the head by the Holy Ghost” moment. In power and the Holy Spirit. But each of us is chosen by Christ. Now--we need to ask--chosen for what?

The answer is given today by Isaiah, an answer first given to an unlikely Messiah, which means anointed in Hebrew. That was Cyrus, a pagan king, who was destined by the Lord to release the Hebrews from bondage in Babylon. Of course, he had first to destroy the Babylonian empire, but when he did, the Jews were allowed–even encouraged–to return to Palestine and rebuild and of course pay taxes to Cyrus. But the ultimate purpose was to restore right worship in the Temple of the Lord, once it was rebuilt. In the words of Isaiah, “that men may know, from the rising of the sun and from its setting, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other,” and act accordingly.

There’s probably one or more of your acquaintances or friends who think Jesus was always too serious. I mean, after all, He was born to live and die for the forgiveness of our sins. That’s deadly serious. But I think He had fun from time to time; here we see Him having fun baiting the Pharisees, who were always trying to trip him up in speech. Now Jesus was the greatest human being ever, so He had the greatest intellect. So we see these half-wit, one-track mind Pharisees hatching a plot to get Jesus to say something that would either get Him arrested or rejected by the people. “Is it OK to pay taxes to Caesar, friend?” It’s like the old saw, “do you still beat your wife?” No right answer. So Jesus asks for a tax-paying coin. “Who is this guy on the coin?” They tell Him it’s Caesar. (Duh.) OK, then render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. End of story. Pharisees made to look stupid and venal. Now Christ turns to us.

Our Constitution tells us that Congress may not establish a religion to the exclusion of all others. We even treat atheism with the same respect, crazy though it is to think that all this came into being by itself. But that does not mean we must personally or as a community keep our faith out of the public square, even though many people want us to shut up about things like killing babies before they are born, or paying just wages, or respecting Sunday as time for prayer and family. To be faithful Catholics is in no way at odds with being patriotic Americans. But we must vote from our faith, love and hope, not our prejudices. And we really need to consider what to think and say when some politician says things like, “I am personally opposed to abortion, but will not impose my faith on my fellow Americans.” That’s a coward’s cop-out. You are not cowards. Form your consciences faithfully, pray for divine help, and vote with courage. That’s what Christ and Mary would do, isn’t it?

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