All that we have belongs to God

By 
  • October 4, 2011

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oc. 16 (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-221)

Absolutely anyone on the face of the Earth can be called by God to be God’s instrument. We would like to think that the call would always go to one who is like us — one who believes, speaks and worships as we do. But this is definitely not the case, for God has His own purposes and a few surprises for us.

Take the case of Cyrus the Persian. He is not an Israelite nor does he know the God of Israel. Not only that, he is the king of the Persian nation. But he is called the Lord’s anointed — mosiach or messiah — a status usually reserved for King David and his successors. The people of Israel had been led away into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Now some 50 years later, the Babylonians got a taste of their own medicine when they were conquered by the Persians. But the Jewish prophets looked upon this upstart king as the instrument of God. Cyrus of course would have been oblivious to all of that — he was definitely not in the loop. But events would bear out the prediction. Following an enlightened policy he allowed the Jews who so wished to return to the land of Israel and he gave them a fair amount of autonomy and support.

We are all instruments in one way or another for God’s kind purposes but often God uses us without consulting us. We cannot pass judgment on the worth of our own life for we may have played an important but anonymous role in God’s plan. Likewise, we cannot judge the life of another for they too have served God’s purposes. And we cannot reject the good that others say and do simply because they do not fit into our understanding of things or because they don’t bear the correct label. Amidst the dreadful messiness of our world God’s Spirit never sleeps but is always silently at work. 

The correct response on our part is what Paul praises the community at Thessalonica for — to labour on in faith, hope and love. Paul is moved to constant thanksgiving for them even though their lives were probably not noteworthy in the eyes of others. They have been chosen to receive God’s power and Spirit. But to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected — just that the chosen one is singled out for particular mission and service.

Jesus would be a hard man to trap on the witness stand or in front of a camera for the evening news. He never allows Himself to be backed into a corner or forced into an “either/or” response but manages to turn the tables on His interrogators. After a bit of insincere (and wasted) flattery, they ask Jesus whether it is permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not. It is a no-win question: if He says yes, then He is a traitor to His nation; if He says no, then a rebel against Rome. Either way, He loses and they win. Instead He asks them for a coin — a denarius — and then asks them whose image is on it. When they reply “Caesar,” He gives His famous answer: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.

This passage has little to do with church-state relations although centuries later it would be enlisted for that purpose. On one level, Jesus dodged a lethal question. But He is also as wise as the serpent He advised us to be. Those who clearly understood the Kingdom of God that Jesus had been preaching would have smiled quietly to themselves. The Kingdom describes God’s direct, immediate and total rule over all the Earth and its peoples with justice and compassion. Everything belongs to God so by all means give to God what belongs to Him. And what is left over for Caesar and all the other earthly powers that claim divine rights intended only for God? Absolutely nothing.

When we give back to God what rightfully belongs to God there is no room for possessiveness, exploitation, ruthless competition or inequality. All that we have — including our very lives — belong solely to God.

Give to God what rightfully belongs to God and the world will be made whole again.

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