HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A.
HOMILY THEME: FOR GOD AND COUNTRY
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
GIVING BACK TO CAESAR
People generally hate to pay taxes, levies, dues, tithes and bills. The rich and the poor both complain about taxes and we can also understand why people hate tax collectors. Every country deals with the problem of tax evasion A tax-dodger is a man who does not love his country less, but loves his money more.
Government, institutions and organisations make laws that penalise those who evade or refuse to pay taxes and dues. When it is time for tax returns we grumble and complain about the paper work and sometimes we are ready to pay for agents who would do the detailed work for us.
Jesus showed us a good example of the importance of our civic duties when he paid tax (Matthew 17:27). Paul advises Christians to pay their taxes when he said, “If you owe any kind of tax, pay it” (Romans 13:7). Paul also recognises the authority of leaders, rulers, kings, presidents, prime ministers and heads of states when he said to Christians: “All of you must yield to the government rulers. No one rules unless God has given him the power to rule, and no one rules now without that power from God… This is why you pay taxes. Rulers are working for God and give their time to their work” (Romans 13:1, 6). There are times when we think that God chooses only religious people to be leaders, but this is not always the case. For example, the prophet Isaiah mentions Cyrus as a King who was appointed and anointed by God, even though he did not know God, he was used as God’s instrument to do good things and had great achievements.
GIVING BACK TO GOD
We pay taxes to the government because the government maintains the infrastructure we enjoy and they provide security for us. We are expected to contribute for other services, which the government provides such as education and other social services. However, we forget that it is in the world of God that we live, move and have our being and that is why God is the universal king whose kingdom does not have boundaries. While we give honour to our kings, prime ministers and presidents, we give glory and worship to God alone because he is the source of all power. The image of Caesar or the images of great men and women are found on our money bills, but the image of God is found on the souls of each one of us. If we were to give God what belongs to God, even Caesar, like every leader or head of state, belongs to God and should be offered to God for guidance. The thing about us is that sometimes we pay our taxes to government and other institutions, but we fail or forget to give back to God for the blessings we have received from him. Imagine giving a Child a very special gift and asking him to lend you only the cover of the gift the following day and he may give you with some degree of reluctance.
Giving back to God must always be our priority. In the play Henry the VIII written by William Shakespeare, the Cardinal Wolsey on his deathbed confided to Thomas Cromwell: “If I had served God as diligently as I have the King, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”
Perhaps we find it more difficult to pay back to God because it is voluntary and not compulsory act. The people of Israel paid what they called Tithes to God, by giving out 10 per cent of whatever they had harvested. The giving out of the tithes was their expression of thanksgiving to God. I observe that around the world today there are Christians who have adopted the habit of taking out ten per cent of whatever money they make to support the poor and to support the Church. When you calculate how much you pay as tax, you may come to realise that you are paying more to Caesar than you are paying back to God. In this case, the equation is not balanced because you receive more from God than from the government.
The greatest way that we can give back to God is to offer ourselves totally and completely for the service of God and neighbour. There is nothing as great as offering ourselves to him who gave himself for us. In the act of total consecration to God, we simply say, my God I am all yours and all I have are yours. In conclusion, to be a complete Christian it is important to serve God and country by carrying out your religious duties faithfully and by being a patriotic citizen.
RELIGION AND POLITICS The Biblical quotation, “Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” has been interpreted and even misinterpreted in many different ways. The most common interpretation is that of dividing the world into two, by saying the sacred has nothing to do with the secular; public life has nothing to do with private life; religion has nothing to do with politics. This interpretation is wrong as long as we accept that God should be all and in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). This is the reason why Christians shy away from anything politics and call it a ‘dirty game.’
We need young people in politics today who will go in there and influence government policies positively and make impact in the lives of people. We need politicians who will go into politics with a deep conviction for justice and stand up for what is right. The famous Mahatma Ghandi was a politician who was remarkably honest because he did not separate his religion from politics. He said, “My politics is my religion and my religion is my politics.”
An important first task for Christians today is to engage in the debates and discourse going on in the society and see how these debates are connected to their faith. For example there are strong debates around the issues of life and marriage, on legalised Euthanasia, where a doctor is given the permission to terminate the life of the sick; legalising abortion; same sex marriage, etc. The challenge is for Christians to stand up and vote for who will defend their moral principles. In addition, there is the challenge to update our knowledge of the scriptures and the social teachings of the church in order to engage more with people in the world who are promoting wrong images regarding life and marriage. If we do not know the current debates going on in the society, there is no way we can make any meaningful contribution to the world. It was the theologian Karl Barth who advised young theologians “to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.'”
29TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A/; Isaiah 45:1, 4-6;
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5;