33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time : Year A - Matthew 25:14-30
Prov 31.10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31; 1 Thes 5.1-6; Mt 24.36, 25.14-30
Freeing the Angel
One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, "What are you making?" He replied, "There is an angel in there and I must set it free."
The Last Good Morning
A talented young man by came in and wished all of us “good morning” and went to sea shore for spending time with his friends on a Sunday. Evening we received a shocking news that he got drowned in the sea and we could not digest this fact. We were all thrown in the dark. The young man had to join a new job after having finished his study just the following Monday. All this changed the entire life of the family. This incident has been the talk of the town for at least year now (2008). Life is precious and can never be substituted with anything else.
She has Cancer
The man came in tears. I had never seen him weeping ever. He was a jovial parishioner. He told me that his wife has been diagnosed with cancer. He wept saying that she has to undergo chemotherapy and he was uncertain about her life. Yes, it is true what Jesus said. 'About the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Hence I invite you to reflect your present state of your life, and deeply be thankful to God. Every moment you live be deeply grateful to God that he has been good to you. Your attitude is to add flavour to your life, so that God be praised through you.
Parable of the Talents
St. Matthew's Parable of the Talents, which is the name given by most Christians to the story we have just read, St. Matthew's Parable of the Talents is actually only one of a collection of three stories which our Lord taught on the subject of shrewd stewardship. The third is the tale recorded by St. Luke in chapter 16 of his Gospel that is known as the Parable of the Crafty Steward or the Parable of the Dishonest Manager or some similar wording of the same theme. While we do not have time today to address this third parable itself, anything we do say about the other two needs to be heard in the context of all three stories, and for that reason, I urge upon you the reading later, but not too long from now of the Parable of the Crafty Steward.
Do your Business
The two stories of our dynamic duo, the second one of which is also recorded by St. Luke in the 19th chapter of his Gospel, are quite enough to keep us occupied. This morning's reading is known as the Parable of Talents. The story recorded by St. Luke in chapter 19 is known as the Parable of the Ten Talents. In St. Luke's story, if you will remember, Jesus suggests not so much a landowner as a lord or crown prince who has to leave his kingdom and travel to a far country in order to be made king. Before he leaves for his coronation, the lord calls 10 of his slaves to him and gives each a mina, small fortune with which each is told to "do business" for the crown prince until he can himself return to them as king. Each of the selected slaves takes his mina and begins to deal with it. Meanwhile, however, many of the other citizens and slaves of that land become restive and begin to speak of rebellion against their absent lord. They go so far, in fact, as to in the end, actually plot out an insurrection.
When the King Returns
Well, of course, as we know, the lord does return and he does return as king, fully empowered and totally in command at last. Shortly thereafter, he calls the 10 slaves and asks of each of them a financial report about their success in using his trusts. We are, interestingly enough, only told about three of the reporting slaves. The other seven simply disappear in the ensuing action. We are told thus that the first slave reports to his master, rather proudly in fact, that he has made 10 additional minas out of the one entrusted to him. The king is deeply pleased, and as a reward, gives the profitable slave lordship over 10 cities, one city for each of the minas he has earned. The second slave reports, with equal pride and identical wording, that he had made five minas out of his one. He, too, is praised by the king and given the oversight of five cities, one for each of his earned minas.
He buried the Talent
The third slave is the last from whom we hear, for his story we are led to understand, is very sad indeed. Like the fearful slave of today's Gospel, this slave has also chosen to hide his mina away where it will be safe from theft and from corrupt usage until his master's return. He explains this decision, as does our fearful servant in St. Matthew, by saying, to quote one translation, "I was afraid of you, for you're a tough man; you collect what you didn't deposit and reap what you didn't sow." So far, our two stories are, in other words, pretty parallel, having only minor differences but the same point.
But now the king of our second rendition responds to the overly fastidious and fearful slave rather differently and far more clearly and emphatically than does the landowner in St. Matthew's telling of the story. The king says, "I will judge you by what you have said, you evil slave! If you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn't deposit and reaping what I had not sown, why didn't you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest." And then the king said to those standing nearby, "Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas."
Understandably, here, as in the story of the talents itself, those who are standing there and hearing this judgment are outraged. Being moral subjects, they protest that giving another mina to a man who already had 10 is unfair - pretty much the same accusation against the king that the fearful slave had already made to his own undoing, but moral insurrectionists apparently learn very slowly. So the king turns to the protesters and delivers one of the most frequently quoted lines of Christian scripture. He says, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even that which he does have will be taken away." After that, the king summarily orders the slaughtering in his presence of those who had plotted his overthrow and the story is ended.
If we never know what happened to the other slaves in St. Luke's story, we also never know what exactly happened to the fearful one beyond his being stripped of his one mina. In St. Matthew's story, as we have read, we find that the fastidious or anxious servant, and not a group of insurrectionists, is the one exiled to the outer darkness where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Either way, however, the question - the central, the overriding, the compelling question still remains.
Reaping Without Sowing
If we are to understand, as obviously we are, that the Messiah is the king or lord or master in both stories, and if Jesus who is telling the tale, is Messiah, then what are we to make of these pictures of himself and of his nature that he has left us? What are we to make of a lord who rewards one of our own kind for using the ways of the world to enrich the king upon his return? More to the point, what are we to make of a lord who condemns, exiles, strips bare one of our own kind, for electing to not use the ways of the world to enrich the king upon his return? Usury, which is the word to translate what our more cautious, more socially correct contemporary translations refer to as "bearing interest," usury was and is a sin in Judaism, and in a lot of other places as well. And nowhere do nice people ever go around reaping crops they didn't sow? What's happening here?
Well, for one thing, if we are honest with our texts, we have to say that the nature of sin and spiritual error is being defined in a very uncomfortable, unconventional, and un-codified way. If we are honest, we would also have to say that it is being defined in much the same way that Jesus was given to defining it during his teaching life. To the ongoing consternation of the religious, we know he ate on the Sabbath from the grain he and his disciples gathered along the roadside as they walked. He refused to stone an adulteress, as the law required, and then made it impossible for others to do so. He talked in depth and publicly to a Samaritan who, even more damning, was a Samaritan woman. He sat at table with flagrant sinners including tax collectors. Over and over again, by act as well as word, he pushed against the moralist and the derivative codes of religion, but never more clearly and incontrovertibly than here in our three parables.
The Total Fulfilment
Lest there might be any mistake in the minds of those around him about the difference between Torah - the law - and moralist and derivative codes, Jesus very explicitly tells his students and through them, us, that not one jot or little of the law as given by God at Sinai will pass into inefficacy until the kingdom itself comes. He says as well that anyone who teaches or empowers another to break Torah would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his or her neck than to do such a thing. But he just as clearly defines Torah by saying that all the Law and the prophets are summed up in this. "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and your neighbor as yourself...for in this all the law and the prophets are indeed fulfilled."
We hear a great deal very frequently about Jesus' summary of the law and the prophets, but almost without exception, what we hear about is that second part, the part about loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is a good principle, a good summary of the divine imperative, a good compass for determining direction, but it is also only half of the Messiah's whole summary. It is, to be precise, the second half, the subordinate or secondary position. Love your neighbor, in other words, while it may be of great social good, is of no spiritual or religious use without its other and primary companion piece of "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul."
To know God, as the moral slave knew, is to be afraid. To know God, really know God to the limits of human observation, is to concede that he does indeed make his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust alike. To know God as far as observation will take us is to acknowledge, as the fearful slave acknowledged, that he's a tough man, playing by rules we can easily question and often find deplorable. Such knowledge would make almost any thinking person afraid, and thus it was that the unprofitable slave took up the shield of playing it safe in order to hold his fear at bay.
But what of the profitable servants in both our tales? Were they not also afraid? Of course they were! Common sense alone teaches us that no slave is without fear of the master. Moreover, the profitable servants were clearly thinking and observant folk who knew as surely as did the fearful one what was the nature of the king. Why then did they not likewise fall into heaps of terror, or at the very least, into heaps of paralyzing anxiety?
It would seem from both our stories, that they loved the master, the landowner, the king. Or if love be too weak and abused a word nowadays to be applicable here, and I suspect that the profitable servants yearned toward the master. They positively glowed in the light of him and his approval. They also yearned so completely that they gambled with his goods in pure blind faith that that was really what he meant for them to do. They yearned so completely, in other words, that they believed his intentions his spirit, if you will - as they understood it, and they gambled themselves on fulfilling it. They, in short, loved the master with all their hearts and souls and minds, for this is the first and great commandment, and all the others are secondary unto it.
And the only proper response to such stories as these, it seems to me, is to pray that God may give each of us such grace and faithfulness in our times as he gave to those faithful servants in their storied ones.
I Never Lived
A woman in the hospital was weeping after being told she was terminally ill with cancer. When a friend sought to console her she replied, "I'm not weeping because I'm dying. I'm weeping because I never lived." The awareness of limits and wasted time means we can take up a conscious stance with regard to our own inevitable mortality. It is this mature insight that will protect us from slavishly following what the culture wants us to do and squandering our time in seeking the approval of others by conforming to their rules and values.
The Second Coming
In Warren Wiersbe's Meet Yourself in the Psalms, he tells about a frontier town where a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon carrying a little boy. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon. The child who was saved grew up to become a lawless man, and one day he stood before a judge to be sentenced for a serious crime. The prisoner recognized the judge as the man who, years before had saved his life; so he pled for mercy on the basis of that experience. But the words from the bench silenced his plea: "Young man, then I was your savior; today I am your judge, and I must sentence you to be hanged." One day Jesus Christ will say to rebellious sinners, "During that long day of grace, I was the Savior, and I would have forgiven you. But today I am your Judge. Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire!"
Intelligent Wood Chopper
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. "I don't get it," he said. "Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did." "But you didn't notice," said the winning woodsman, "that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest."
The Bridegrooms Arrival
There are a number of obscure aspects about Matthew's story. The setting is the awaited arrival of the bridegroom, but it is not certain whether he is coming to meet his betrothed at her father's house or, as is more likely, he is returning to his own home with his bride (it is there the "wedding banquet" will take place, 25.10). The bride is not mentioned at all in the story (although a later scribe added a reference to the bride in v. 1). From what is known of first-century Palestinian marriage customs, after the period of betrothal was completed the groom would go to his bride's family home to conclude the dowry arrangements and bring her to his own house or that of his family where a celebration would take place. Also uncertain is the role of the ten "virgins" (the Greek refers to parthenoi; translation "bridesmaids" is not literal and assumes they are part of the bride's party). If the setting is the groom's house, they may be associated with his household or family. In any case, they are part of the wedding celebration and are to meet the groom with lighted lamps when he returns.
The parable wastes little time in illustrating the different attitudes among the ten virgins-five are "foolish" and five are "wise" (25.2). Matthew used these identical labels to contrast the wise man who built his home on rock and the foolish one who built on sand at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (7.24-27). In the parable of the virgins, the contrasting reactions are the preparations each group makes for the awaited return of the groom. The foolish take no oil for their lamps while the wise take flasks of oil with them. When the bridegroom is delayed, all of the virgins become drowsy and fall asleep. Suddenly at midnight the signal is given that the groom is arriving and the procession is to meet him. When the virgins begin to trim their oil lamps (replacing the burned wicks and adding new oil?), the foolish realize they have no more oil. They ask the wise virgins for some, but they in turn calculate that there is not enough for everyone. Improbable as it may seem at midnight, the foolish virgins must go off to try to purchase more oil for their lamps.
The Final Arrival
Meanwhile the groom arrives and "those who were ready" (see the same word used in 24:44, "you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour") entered into the wedding feast (25.10). Then the door was "shut" so that no one else could enter. The foolish virgins finally arrive but they are too late. They cry out, "Lord, lord, open to us" but the groom rebuffs their last-minute pleas-"Truly . . . I do not know you" (25.11-12). This exchange is nearly identical to the warnings of Jesus at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who cry out "Lord, Lord" but fail to do the will of God are rejected by Jesus ("I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers") and therefore cannot "enter the kingdom of heaven" (see 7.21-23).
Matthew drives home the lesson of the parable in its concluding verse: "Keep awake [gregoreite; see the same verb in 24.42, 43] therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (25.13). "Staying awake" is used metaphorically for a stance of thoughtful readiness in view of the certain but unknown hour of the parousia. All of the virgins "slept" (see 25.5), but the wise virgins had made preparations to be ready no matter when the bridegroom would arrive.
Who is the Bridegroom?
How far to push the allegorical dimensions of this parable have been debated, we are not pretty sure. Matthew himself signals some key allegorical features. The bridegroom is surely intended to represent the Son of Man. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to God as the bridegroom who takes away Israel's barrenness and shame (see, e.g., Isa 54.1-8; Jer 31.32; Hos 2.1-20). In the New Testament, the image takes on eschatological tones, probably due to the motif of the end time as a wedding feast (see Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29-30; and the similar image of the community as the "bride" of Christ: 2 Cor 11.2; Eph 5.21-33; Rev 19.7; 21.2, 9; 22.17).
That Matthew refers to the parousia of the Son of Man is clear from the overall context of the apocalyptic discourse where the parable functions as one of several exhortations to readiness in view of the parousia. Also, Matthew had already identified Jesus as the "bridegroom" earlier in the Gospel in a passage with strong eschatological tones (see 9.15). In the parable of the wedding feast (22.1-10), Matthew had also introduced wedding imagery as a way of speaking of the judgment that would befall not only those who violently rejected the original invitation by the king, but even those invited later who do not wear a wedding garment (22.11-14). In the story of the virgins, the "delay" of the bridegroom (25.5; see 24.48), the dramatic shout announcing his sudden arrival (25.6; see 24.31), and the address "Lord, lord" (25.11; see 7.21-23) all point to Jesus as the triumphant Son of Man coming at the parousia.
Wisdom is something we ‘choose’ like the five bridesmaids did. Having chosen it wisdom becomes second nature to us.
We can also reject it like the other five bridesmaids did. And then we remain condemned to a foolishness we ourselves cannot see.
I don't know if there really is a door but I do know there really will be such a moment, such a moment of truth; I pray that when it comes, we may all find ourselves together in the wedding hall - for all eternity.
Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.
The Meaning of Life
A story is told by Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister, about a seminar he once attended in Greece. On the last day of the conference, the discussion leader walked over to the bright light of an open window and looked out. Then he asked if there were any questions. Fulghum laughingly asked him what was the meaning of life. Everyone in attendance laughed and stirred to leave. However, the leader held up his hand to ask for silence and then responded "I will answer your question." He took his wallet out of his pocket and removed a small round mirror about the size of a quarter. Then he explained "When I was a small child during World War II, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun could never shine. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places that I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I grew up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game.
As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - be it truth or understanding or knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have, I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the dark places of human hearts - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others seeing it happen will do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."
Do we reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of other people's lives? Will the world be a better place for our having been in it? (It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum. Ivy Books, 988).
Not many priests and people of God will feel comfortable with the readings today; they are aimed directly at us, though every word could be applied in some way to the laity too.
About five hundred years before Christ, prophet Malachi delivers clear reproaches to priests who:
These recriminations are gravely serious. One can hear the anguish, the hurt, and the righteous indignation of the offended King, and that fact alone should make every priest tremble. To break faith with the Lord, or as God puts it, 'to destroy the covenant' is no small thing.
Listening to God
A priest is called to ‘listen to God’. When Jesus called the Twelve he called them firstly. to be with him (Mk 3.14), and consequently this is a priest's first vocation; to be always with the Lord. It goes without saying that to be with someone is to listen to that person. Listening is the first casualty of a disintegrating relationship. We have probably all had the experience of drifting from the person at the other end of the telephone line to what is happening on the television screen, and it's rather embarrassing to be caught out. God is complaining that the priests had stopped listening and were therefore no longer with him, and consequently were no longer able to 'glorify' his name.
The Lord declares that his priests. have strayed from the way …and … not kept to God's paths. If the shepherd does not keep to the right path what are we to expect will happen to the sheep? The Lord spells it out for us. You have caused many to stumble by your teaching.
To teach in God's name is a terrible responsibility as well as an astonishing privilege which should be exercised with the utmost seriousness. Indeed, a priest is ordained precisely to preach the gospel and to celebrate the sacraments worthily, and so to build up communion in Christ.
Can you imagine the calamity it would be for me to suddenly see that I had 'strayed from the way' of God's truth and 'caused many to stumble'; that I had preached what the people wanted to hear rather than what Christ wanted them to hear. I could think of few other things which would cause me greater shame before God.
Without the slightest ambiguity the Lord pronounces sentence on the guilty. I will send a curse on you and curse your very blessing. In addition God will make those priests. contemptible and vile in the eyes of the whole people… . We all know that when salt loses its flavour it is thrown out and trampled upon.
Jesus, too, points out to the Scribes and Pharisees that they have betrayed the covenant because they do not live the message they preach. In fact, they use their position as leaders to advance their own egos and win prestige for themselves.
Thank God for St Paul and the example he gives of true ministerial zeal. He labours in preaching the gospel and lives it with integrity. The understanding Paul has of his care for the Thessalonian community is of a mother 'feeding and looking after her own children … eager to hand over … not only the Good News but our whole lives'. What a contrast to the Jewish leaders who 'do not practise what they preach!'
And thank God for the Thessalonian community which, on hearing the message of Paul, immediately accepted it for what it really is, God's message, and not some human thinking … Therefore the message of faith was a 'living power' among them.
The clear light of God's word still searches even today the hearts of priests and people alike.
Do you love me?
There is a very tender and moving scene in the play, Fiddler On The Roof. Tevye and his wife Golda are being forced to move from their home in Russia. One day Tevye comes into the house and asks his wife, "Golda, do you love me?" "Do I what?" "Do you love me?" Golda looks at him and then responds. "Do I love you? With our daughters getting married and this trouble in the town, you're upset, you're worn out, go inside, go lie down, maybe it's indigestion." Tevye interrupts and asks the question, "Golda, do you love me?" Golda sighs as she looked at him and says, "Do I love you? For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked the cows. After 25 years, why talk of love right now?" Tevye answers by saying, "Golda, the first time I met you was on our wedding day. I was scared, I was shy, I was nervous." "So was I," said Golda. "But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other, and now I'm asking, "Golda, do you love me?" "Do I love him?" Golda sighs. "For 25 years I've lived with him, fought with him, 25 years my bed is his! If that's not love, what is?" "Then you love me?" Tevye asks. "I suppose I do!" she says. "And I suppose I love you too!" he says. "It doesn't change a thing, but after 25 years it's nice to know." "Do you love me?".
In today’s Gospel, Jesus leaves us his classic formulation of love, a teaching so simple that a child could grasp it, and yet so challenging that not even the saints quite live it. Christ clearly distinguishes between love of God and love of neighbor, calling love of God the first and greatest commandment and love of neighbor the second. But even though he distinguishes them in this way, Jesus does not separate them. He instead insists that the second is like the first, and uses the same Greek word for both God-love and neighbor-love.
First God then Neighbor
By ranking and relating God-love and neighbor-love in this way, Jesus establishes an order of loves—a hierarchy of first things and second things. There’s a certain rule that applies to everything arranged in this way, a rule that we’ll call the rule of “second things.” The rule goes like this. whenever we prefer the lower to the higher, the part to the whole, and—in general—“second things” to “first things”, we lose not only the first thing (which one would expect), but we lose the second thing as well.
Illustrations of this rule are everywhere. When we put our job before our families, for instance, not only do we hurt our relationship with our family, but we also quickly lose the true pleasure of working. Work uncoupled from community tends to become compulsive rather than rewarding. The same pattern holds for whole societies. The history of the 20th Century has shown that whenever countries violently suppress religion for the sake of human freedom (as they did in the heyday of atheist communism) the result was not only a forgetfulness of God, but a loss of human freedom as well. Whenever we put humanity before divinity, we get neither right.
Though this rule of “second things” holds quite generally, it applies in a special way to Christian marriage. For it is in this particular form of neighbor-love—the love between husbands and wives—that the second commandment is most “like” the first. “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love,” writes Pope Benedict, “becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (DCE 11). Because marriage is called to bear a special “likeness” to God’s love, our natural human love requires a special form of assistance to meet this standard. We need God to lend His own strength to our love, the seed of which strength he plants in every sacramental marriage.
Because of the special demands of marriage, putting first things takes on special urgency here. When husband and wife do not love each other for God’s sake, even their love for each ends up stunted. Why? We are made with an infinite longing, a yearning to love perfectly and to be loved perfectly. But there is no Mr. or Mrs. Perfect. No single person—no matter how compatible according to eHarmony—can bear the weight of our infinite expectations. After a smooth beginning, marriages almost always pass through a time of trial, even a phase of disillusionment—a time when the other’s faults and limitations become infuriating and when we realize, moreover, that he or she is unlikely to change. It’s then that the proverbial “seven-year itch” arises. And it’s then that our love is either matures into something deeper, or it dies.
It’s also then that we need to call upon the reserves of a love deeper than our natural affection. And our ability to tap into this reservoir depends on the degree to which we have cultivated friendship with God. Entering into friendship—any friendship—increases our ability to see things from that friend’s perspective, to appreciate the things he/she appreciates and to reject the things that he/she rejects. God’s friendship is like this too. By entering into friendship with Christ, then I “learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend”.
Prayer and the sacraments give us, little by little, the ability to look at our husband or wife (or any neighbor) through Christ’s eyes. We strengthen this vision when we meditate on Christ in the Gospels, when we receive him worthily in the Eucharist, and when we accept his forgiveness in confession. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Luther pastor killed for resistance to the Nazi party, used to exhort the couple in his wedding homilies, “Live in the forgiveness of one another’s sins.” So essential. But nearly impossible if we have not contemplated Christ’s indulgence toward our own sins.
As Christ sees it, friendship with God is that first thing on which our love of neighbor depends. Hence, taking a moderate time apart to cultivate our friendship with God is not taking “quality time” away from our spouses and our children and our neighbors. It ensures instead that the time we spend with them is “quality;” for prayer changes the quality of our love, salting our love with divine fire. Do I want to be a better husband, wife, father, mother, and neighbor? I must put first things first. I must love God more ardently–with my whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
Remember that the persecution of Jesus and his followers was championed by well-meaning religious people motivated by what they believed to be zeal and love for God. The same people asking about the first commandment are the ones trying to entrap and kill Jesus. They are so conscious about love of God. Why then are they so insensitive when it comes to love of neighbour? Saul who later became St Paul is a good example of this kind of skewed religiosity. Jesus prophesied that "an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God" (Jn 16.2).
The error of the Pharisees is still here with us. There are still many Christians who try to separate love of fellow human beings from love of God. Their commitment to faith does not include commitment to human rights and to justice and peace issues. We shall do well to heed the message of Jesus in today's gospel: that true love of God and true love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to separate them is a falsification of the message of Christ. "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1 Jn 4.20).
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada
Is 45.1, 4-6; 1 Thes 1.1-5; Mt 22.15-21
The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Copper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."
I was having a wonderful time at the sea shore. The ceaseless waves beating the shore and the freshness of the surroundings just made me feel very happy and relaxed. Just at that moment, there comes a toddler with a sad face asking for alms. As usual I put my hand into my pocket and wanted to give him any coin I could get at that moment. Well, lucky I got 5 rupees coin to give. He was ecstatic and he ran away. After about 10 minutes he appears again, in his hands 5 bananas. He offered me one. I declined to take any and said that all was his. Well, he sat just there and started eating one after another. Then I saw him eating even the soft inside skin of the banana. I felt too sorry for him. I imagined this lad must have been hungry for more than a day.
The Saviour Coin
Jesus asks to see a coin used to pay the tax, a Roman denarius, which was imprinted with a bust of Tiberius Caesar and bore the inscription in Latin, "Tiberius Caesar, august son of the Divine High Priest Augustus." Both the image of the emperor and the inscription would be offensive to observant Jews. Jesus turns the tables on the leaders by asking them whose image and whose inscription is on the coin. When they concede that both belong to the emperor, Jesus renders his famous aphorism: "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." In a single brilliant stroke Jesus silences his enemies, and they go away amazed at his answer (22.22). He answers their provocative question about paying the tax with an oblique answer-if the coin belongs to Caesar then it can be given to him. But Jesus immediately lays alongside this concession another more profound and more encompassing requirement: "[Give] to God the things that are God's." The comprehensive scope of "what belongs to God" makes it not a parallel with the concession to Caesar but a principle of commitment that moves far beyond civic obligation and even overrides it. The hostility of the leaders and their efforts to best Jesus only serve, for Matthew's Gospel, as a foil to highlight the wisdom and authority of Jesus the Messiah.
Theology of Giving
Today giving has become difficult. We are living in a society that eats our income systematically. Go to malls and restaurants, and you come back empty. Whatever you take with you is not enough for yourself and your family. Difficult days are ahead as we have just witnessed the markets meltdown. Moreover, we hear families separated and people depressed.
Give to God what belongs to Him
Then why Jesus says “give to God what belongs to God”? Of course the Jewish authorities sought to trap Jesus in a religious-state dispute over the issue of taxes. The Jews resented their foreign rulers and despised paying taxes to Cesar. They posed a dilemma to test Jesus to see if he would make a statement they could use against him. If Jesus answered that it was lawful to pay taxes to a pagan ruler, then he would lose credibility with the Jewish populace who would regard him as a coward and a friend of Cesar. If he said it was not lawful, then the Pharisees would have grounds to report him to the Roman authorities as a political trouble-maker and have him arrested. Jesus avoided their trap by confronting them with the image of a coin. Coinage in the ancient world had significant political power. Rulers issued coins with their own image and inscription on them. In a certain sense the coin was regarded as the personal property of the ruler. Where the coin was valid the ruler held political sway over the people. Since the Jews used the Roman currency, Jesus explained that what belonged to Caesar must be given to Caesar. This story has another deeper meaning as well. We, too, have been stamped with God’s image since we are created in his own likeness (Gen 1.26-27). We rightfully belong, not to ourselves, but to God who created us and redeemed us in the precious blood of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 6.19-20). Paul the Apostle says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Rm 12.1).
Give to God what belongs to God." We should first give back to God our own selves upon which God's image is engraved. We don't bring back to God "what belongs to God" in a human being. Jesus went to the cross to do that. "Give to God what belongs to God" does not mean just lip service. Jesus spoke with the full realization that he was casting his life away so that humankind in sin would be pardoned for sin and handed over into God's hands as His. In order to bring that about, he had the conviction to sacrifice himself. He had the full intention to pay the full price. In fact, the Lord did pay the price. With his own life! Therefore, the Bible says it like this to us, "You are bought with a price." This is how it is written, "You are bought with a price. Therefore, show forth the glory of God by means of your bodies" (I Cor 6.20).
The Pharisees and Herodians were the local authorities who did not enjoy popular support in Galilee. They had decided that it was time to kill Jesus (Mt 12.14; Mk 3.6). Now, by order of the priests and elders, they want to know whether Jesus is in favor of or against paying tribute to the Romans. A deliberate question, full of malice! Under the guise of fidelity to the law of God, they seek reasons for accusing him. If Jesus were to say: “You must pay!” they would accuse him, together with the people, of being a friend of the Romans. Were he to say: “You must not pay!” they would accuse him, together with the Roman authorities, of being a subversive. A dead end!
Show me a coin
Jesus is aware of their hypocrisy. In his reply, he wastes no time in useless discussion and goes directly to the heart of the question: “Whose portrait is this? Whose title?” They answer: “Caesar’s!”
Jesus then draws the conclusion: “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!”. In fact, they already acknowledged Caesar’s authority. They already paid Caesar what belonged to Caesar since they used his money to buy and sell and even to pay the tribute to the Temple! Hence, the question was useless. Why ask something whose answer was clear in practice? They, who by their question pretended to be servants of God, were in fact forgetting the most important thing: they forgot to give God what belongs to God! What mattered to Jesus was that “they pay God what belongs to God”, that is, they mislead the people that they had lead away from God through their own fault, because through their teachings they prevented people from entering the Kingdom (Mt 23.13). Others say: “Pay God what belongs to God”, that is, practise justice and honesty according to the demands of the law of God, because by your hypocrisy your are denying God what is due to Him. The disciples must be aware of this! Because it was the hypocrisy of these Pharisees and Herodians that was blinding their eyes! (Mk 8.15).
Levies, tributes, taxes and tithes:
In Jesus’ time, the people of Palestine paid very many levies, taxes, tributes, fines, contributions, donations and tithes. Some scholars calculate that half of a family’s income went to pay levies. Here is a list that gives an idea of all that the people paid in levies:
Levy on property (tributum soli). The taxation officers of the government checked on properties, production, the number of slaves and then fixed the amount to be paid. Periodically, new taxation amounts were set in accordance with census taken. Levies on persons (tributum capitis). For the poor without land. This included women and men between the ages of 12 and 65 years. The levy on the workforce was 20% of the income of every individual.
Golden crown: Originally this was a gift to the emperor, but then became a compulsory levy. It was paid on special occasions such as feasts or visits of the emperor.
Salt levy: Salt was the emperor’s monopoly. The tribute was paid on salt for commercial use. For instance, salt used by fishermen to salt fish. That is the origin of the word “salary”.
Levy on buying and selling: For each commercial transaction there was a levy of 1%. It was the taxation officers who collected this money. For instance, to buy a slave they asked for 2%. Levy on professional practice: For anything at all one needed a permit. For instance, a shoemaker in Palmira paid one denarius per month. One denarius was equivalent to a day’s salary. Even prostitutes had to pay their taxes.
Levy on the use of public utilities: Emperor Vespasian introduced a levy on the use of public baths in Rome. He used to say, “Money has no smell!”
Toll: This was a levy on the movement of merchandise, collected by Publicans. Toll was paid on the road. At certain points there were soldiers who forced those who were reluctant to pay.
Forced labour: Everyone could be forced to render some service to the State for five years, without remuneration. This is why Simon was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.
Special subsidy for the armed forces: People were obliged to offer hospitality to soldiers. People also had to pay a certain amount of money for the nourishment and support of the troops.
Levy for the Temple and for Cult
Shekalim: This was the levy for the upkeep of the Temple.
Tithe: This was the levy for the upkeep of the priests. “Tithe” means the tenth part!
First fruits: This was the levy for the upkeep of the cult. That is, the first fruits of all land products.
We will listen to this message spoken to the Jews and the people who have been bought with a price. "Give to God what belongs to God." Therefore, what we ought to do is to be God's own people by (his) grace and to offer ourselves up to God. First, we offer to God our bodies "as a holy living sacrifice for God's pleasure," (Rm 12.1). That's (true) worship from us (to Him). Everything we have comes from God. Naked I came and naked shall I return, blessed be the name of God (Job).