Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 15
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
This week’s readings move along smoothly, up to a point. Isaiah looks forward to God giving a wonderful feast for everyone. The psalmist sings of God as his good shepherd. St. Paul rejoices in being able to do everything in God who strengthens him. You couldn’t find a more comforting set of Bible texts.
Then we get to the Gospel.
Jesus tells a parable about a king who invites people to his son’s wedding reception. Some of them refuse to come. Astonishing!
Other invitees rough up the servants who deliver the invitation — and kill them. Incredible!
The king sends soldiers to execute the murderers and destroy their town. Not surprising, but shocking, all the same.
Finally, the king fills his banquet hall with homeless people. Unimaginable!
And that, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Yes, the kingdom of God can be compared to a great feast, as Isaiah pictures it. And, Jesus indicates, the invitations are being sent out, and now is the time to respond.
In his jolting little story, “some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.” Bad move! Everything depended on accepting the invitation, but they missed their chance.
The heart of Jesus’ preaching was that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15). God is beginning to intervene in people’s lives to set things right. Jesus is both the announcer and the agent of God’s action. It is in Jesus that God is getting near to people in a new way, getting into people’s lives for their good.
Jesus tried to get people to see that when the wave of God’s action gets to where you’re at, nothing is more urgent than catching it.
Sending his Disciples out to preach the arrival of God’s kingdom, he forbade them to delay even to say hello to people they met on the road — a hugely rude thing to do in a courtesy-rich culture (Lk 10:4). More astounding, he told a potential disciple who wanted to put off following him until after his father’s funeral, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Lk 9:59-60).
The point of all this is not that Jesus is not gentle and patient, as he showed in countless ways. The point is, when God begins to make himself present to us, when we hear him saying something to us, when we sense an invitation or call from him, this becomes the most hopeful and most pressing thing happening in our life.
If “today you would hear his voice” (see Ps 95:7-8), don’t let him go to voicemail.
Reflection Question: Where is the wave of God’s action in my life?
Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 22
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
“I am the Lord and there is no other” (Is 45:6).
The prophet Isaiah tells us, in simple yet weighty words, that God’s power is universal, loving and mysterious. Earthly power comes from God alone, Isaiah reminds the Israelites and us.
To confess God’s almighty power has profound meaning for life. For in confessing that God is the source of all power, we place ourselves in the merciful hands of God, with complete trust and humble thanksgiving.
It is this Christian attitude of deep trust and thanksgiving to God that St. Paul finds and praises in today’s second reading. The Apostle describes the Thessalonians as an early Christian community whose faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ radiated from their words and actions. That was the authentic path of Christian life then and it remains the essence of every Christian community today.
But how are we to balance being disciples of Jesus Christ and being good citizens of society and the world? Jesus offers the religious leaders of his day an answer to this perennial problem by answering their question with a question. Jesus asks them to produce a coin used to pay taxes.
He asks them to describe the coin — “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” (Mt 22:20). He tells them then that the coin that bears the image and name of Caesar should be given to Caesar while reminding them of their religious obligations as well. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:22).
Jesus confronts them and us with the deepest question of all. Do we give to God what rightfully belongs to him — the gift of our entire heart, mind and soul?
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day set up their question in such a way that one had to choose between loyalty to political power or faithfulness to God. They create an either-or situation, a false dilemma between choosing to pay taxes, as good citizens would do, and serving God with one’s words and actions.
Jesus’ answer cuts through their false dilemma to show that it is not an either-or situation. Rather, we strive to be both law-abiding citizens and people of faith who love God and neighbor. We do so knowing that serving God is our highest priority.
Faith requires that we are good citizens. For Christians live in this world, but not of it. Followers of Jesus are often faced with difficult decisions. There are so many “Caesars” competing for our allegiance.
As we give to “Caesar,” God’s word today reminds us to not waver in our faithfulness to God in word and deed. May we never stop giving to God what belongs to God who is the origin and end, the meaning and purpose of existence.
Today let us pray for the strength to persevere as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ so we can say together in faith, “Speak to me, Lord.”
Reflection Question: How does my faith inform my civic life and responsibilities?