YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: BETWEEN GOD AND CEASAR
BY: Rev. Fr Gerald Muoka
HOMILY: R1 – Is 45:1, 4-6
RESP. PS. – PS. – 33:1-2, 4-5, 12-13
R2 – 1Thess 1:1-5b
GOSPEL- Matt 22:15-21
When Jimmy Carter was running for President of the United States, one of the more vivid moments in the campaign passed by almost unnoticed.
One Sunday morning, candidate Carter went to worship at the Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. When the service was over, the media mavens moved in for interviews, pushing themselves to think of clever questions to ask a Presidential candidate on his way out of a Southern Baptist Church.
Suddenly, a reporter, probably with a stroke of luck, shouted out a question that genuinely mattered:
“Mr. Carter, suppose when you are President, you get into a situation where the laws of the United States are in conflict with what you understand to be the will of God. Which will you follow, the laws of the state or the commandments of God?”
Carter stopped, looked up, perhaps with the Spirit gently whispering the lyrics of the Gospel into his ears, he turned toward the reporter and replied, “I would obey the commandments of God.” Alert aides, alarmed by this candor and unnerved by their candidate’s near-treasonous remark, hurriedly whisked him away from the press and into a waiting car.
Carter the politician should have avoided the question, or hewed closely to the law of the land in order to win people’s admiration, like most deceitful Nigerian political criminals, but Carter the Christian was open to the Holy Spirit Who encouraged him to give an honest answer-not giving to Caesar what belongs to God.
Beloved in Christ, In our Gospel today, Jesus is faced with a question that is as dicey as what we observed in the introit story about the Emeritus President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, on the question of making preference between the Church (God) and the State (Caesar).
The Pharisees were asking Jesus about civic duty. They asked Him: “Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” Jesus answered them: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
The question is a trap meant to throw Jesus off balanced. It is obvious, if Jesus should say YES, the people would resent and reject Him because nobody likes to pay taxes, especially, to foreign pagan government, the Roman government, who dominated them during that time. For the Jews, it is an insult to their religion and a blasphemy against God, because they held that only Yahweh is their King. Their nation was theocratic and to pay taxes to an earthly king was to admit the validity of his kingship and thereby an insult God.
On the other hand, if Jesus should say NO, the Pharisees would report Him to the Roman government as an anti-Roman Subversive or a revolutionary; Ije uwa.. ndi obi ojoo! The Roman government would then arrest Him and put Him into prison. But Jesus, being the omniscient, and reading through the lines of their adder’s heart, shocked them by not hitting their trap on Him.
However, Jesus’ response shows that we are citizens of two worlds: : Dē cīvitāte Deī (City of God) and Dē cīvitāte homo (City of man); the world we see and the unseen world. As such, we have duties in both worlds, that is, to a person and to God; to the state and to the church. And when the duty to the state conflicts with that of God, a preferable stance-God- is paramount. It is like, love your God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Our duties to a person include not only what we owe to the government like paying taxes and allegiance, but also what we owe to others.
Furthermore, in the first reading, Isaiah the prophet foretells how, unintentionally, the policies of the great Persian Emperor Cyrus will be made part of God’s saving plan for His chosen people.
The Cyrus mentioned here is Cyrus II, the Great, who founded the Persian Empire. In 539 B.C., he conquered the Babylonians who had defeated the Jews 50 years earlier and had taken many of them into captivity. He decided to liberate the Jews from their exile and allow them to go back to their home country, Judea.
In this passage, the prophet Isaiah declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, was God’s instrument. The amazing fact is that God actually used Cyrus to restore His people to their homeland. God is able and willing to use ungodly powers to achieve His ends (not minding his ethnicity, religion, tribe, colour or race), because He is the God not only of the Jews, but of history and of the whole world.
Hence, He anointed Cyrus as a savior of His people. Cyrus carried out God’s plan by setting the Jewish exiles free and giving them permission to go back to Judah to rebuild their Temple and city. He also returned to them the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. So a pagan emperor became, in God’s hand, the instrument by means of whom the people of Israel might return to their Promised Land.
The theological significance behind the choice of this reading in today’s liturgy is to authenticate the fact that, even political leaders are being appointed and anointed by God, irrespective of religion, tribe, colour or race, just like Cyrus to set God’s children free.
Therefore, we ought to accord our leaders, whether political or religious, maximum respect and cooperation that would facilitate growth and developments in the society.
The scripture affirms:
Everyone is to obey the governing
authorities, because there is no
authority except from God and
so whatever authorities exist
have been appointed by God.
So anyone who disobeys an
authority is rebelling against
God’s ordinance; and rebels
must expect to receive the
condemnation they deserve.
(1) CONSPIRACY IS EVIL
(2) THAT WHICH BELONGS TO CAESAR (Fulfilling my civic duties- #ENDSARNOW PROTEST IS A CIVIC DUTY)
(3) BETWEEN GOD AND CAESAR; GOD FIRST
(1) CONSPIRACY IS EVIL
(When the enemy of my enemy become friends for a malicious purpose)
Conspiracy is the coming together or agreement between two persons or more inorder to perpetuate an evil, treacherous, unlawful, fraudulent, or superstitious act against an innocent person or to foist his/her mission and defame him/her; because he/her has a flavour or taste we lack in a particular field of life.
Sometimes, opposing enemies can agree under conspiracy inorder to achieve their feat. This is exactly what happened in the Gospel reading between the Herodians and the Pharisees; two antics who conspired against Jesus.
The Herodians were not a sect or a religious school, but a political party. Outwardly they were friends of Caesar and of Roman authority; though they were not Romans, they favoured the House of Herod as the occupant of the Jewish throne; this made them friends of pagan Rome and Caesar. They were simply Pro Ceasar-Herod-Roman vassal
authorities and government.
The Pharisees were chiefly a puritan sect that tenaciously promote and strictly propagate the Jewish laws and traditions. They refused to acknowledge the Roman Authority. They had even attempted to kill Herod. There were pure nationalists who refused to acknowledge the Roman dominion, hoping that one day, the Jews under their Messiah-King would rule the world.
They were chiefly enemies because the Herodians were more of anti-religious, while the Pharisees were pure religious models and exemplars.
Imagine such conspiracy of the enemy of my enemy inorder to hand Jesus over to the authority of the Roman Governor, else to the people.
However, it is obvious that such conspiracy is motivated by hatred and envy. Conspirators are known for:
~meeting before meeting
~meeting in meeting, and
~meeting after meeting
These meetings are geared towards frustrating God’s anointed in the families, communities, groups, ministries, parastatals and ecclesiastical organs.
But the scripture says of them:
Why this uproar among the
nations, this impotent muttering
of the peoples?
Kings of the earth take up
position, princes plot together
against Yahweh and his anointed,
Now let us break their fetters!
Now let us throw off their
bonds!’He who is enthroned
in the heavens laughs, Yahweh
makes a mockery of them.
Imagine the set backs, ugly situations and Liberators’ Civil War the conspiracy against Julius Caesar by the House of Senate cost the Roman empire for over 3 Centuries. Remember, Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them. … They dug a pit before me, but they themselves have fallen into it! (Prov. 26:27; Ps. 57:6).
(2) THAT WHICH BELONGS TO CARSAR
(Accomplishing our civic duties- #ENDSARNOW PROTEST IS A CIVIC DUTY# )
In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, the newly-elected President of the United States, gave the famous challenge: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
If we personalized Kennedy’s statement it would read, “Don’t ask, ‘What can my country do for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What can I do for Nigeria now?’” And add, “Don’t ask, ‘What can God do for me?’ Instead ask, ‘What can I do for God?’”
In Nigeria today, one of the best things we ought to do for Nigeria is not only to pay tax or to keep shouting Holy Ghost fire in the churches from morning to night, praying for favour and miracles.. NO!
The ongoing #ENDSARS# protests is a civic duty and a debt we owe Nigeria, which should further spark great revolutions to end corruption in our families, communities, churches, state and country by speaking and preaching out and standing our grounds against evil around us. Let us lead more protests, preaching and marching against:
~#END IMPUNITY IN NIGERIA NOW#
~#END BAD GOVERNACE#
~#END CORRUPTION AND LOOTING#
~#END NON PAYMENT OF SALARY AND PENSION#
#END IMPUNITY IN NIGERIA#
~#END BAD ROADS#
~#END ETHNIC CLEANSING IN SOUTHERN KADUNA#
END ENDLESS JOURNEY FROM GOVERNORSHIP TO SENATE-STATE ASSEMBLY TO NATIONAL ASSEMBLY#
#END EVIL IN NIGERIA#
This is the best civic duty which we owe a nation blessed with rich human and natural resources like Nigeria; because the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing (Edmund Burke).
(3) BETWEEN GOD AND CEASAR (God first)
There are moments when human and governmental legislations and laws conflict with God’s commandments and ordinances. The question we ask ourselves is, “which one do we choose, between God (church) and Ceasar (state)?”
Jimmy Carter, at the introit story risked his presidential ambitions even against his party manifesto, inorder to choose God over Caesar.
At certain times in history, some inhuman and unnatural legislations and bills as abortion, homosexuality, capital punishments have been passed in legislative houses that have Christians and Muslims as participants.
Even in our families and communities, alot of ungodly traditions and practices have been enacted over our indifference and silence; we are simply preferring Caesar to God.
At worst, we give more to Caesar by paying more attention to observance of some humanly enacted and promulgated laws than Divine laws. Such observance of not fixing marriages on Eke market days or farming on a particular farmland on Nkwo, Orie or Afor market days are strictly observed, whereas, God’s commandments are neglected because we feel the punishment is not immediately.
The strict observance of osu, ume, and diala caste systems which are man made, leaves one in wonders; if we are really for God or Caesar?
We are here advised to imitate the converts in the Thessalonian Church who are being showered with praises by St Paul in the Second reading, for their fidelity to God and to Christ His Son, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” and for their practice, with the help of the Holy Spirit, of the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Finally, at a time in history, Thomas More, the English martyr was councilor to King Henry VIII and Lord High Chancellor of England. King Henry VIII of England was, by Papal dispensation, validly married to Catherine of Aragon, his elder brother’s widow. Seeking a male heir and attracted to Anne Boelyn, Henry appealed to Rome again to have his marriage to Catherine annulled – which would mean that the Papal dispensation had been sinful! Rome refused. Henry took matters into his own hands, declared himself Head of the Church in England and “married” Anne.
He then ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agreed he had acted rightly in the matter. Many of Thomas More’s friends signed, but Thomas More refused. Henry demanded that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state.
Thomas More blatantly refused: he knew he had two obligations, one to God and one to his country. When they conflicted, Thomas More knew he had no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God. On his way to public execution in 1534, Thomas More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the Faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
MAY GOD HELP US TO ALWAYS MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS, MOST ESPECIALLY, WHEN FACED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF MAKING AN IMMINENT CHOICE BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS; GOOD AND EVIL; HOLINESS AND SINFULNESS; GOD AND CAESAR. AMEN.
GOD BLESS YOU!
FR GERALD MUOKA