Homily for the 29th Sunday In Ordinary Times
Cycle A Given at St. Jude, October 21/22, 2023
By Deacon Ken Steponaitis
Is anybody out there anxious about what is happening to our world today? We have Israel at war with Hamas, other Arab nations looking to get into the fight; we have Ukraine and Russia at war; China looking to start a fight with Tiawan; we see millions of immigrants flowing into this nation with nowhere to go and cities and towns being overwhelmed to take care of them; we have culture wars between races and sexes, infighting between Democrats and Republicans and even within our Church we have a split with those supporting our Pope in the Synod and those who oppose it. Add to all that our personal issues of lost jobs, family members who are ill or on their death beds, kids being killed by drugs and suicide and the list goes on.
How about now, are you anxious yet? Well today, I want to talk about hope because to get through this life we must have hope. To not have hope is to have the opposite, despair and that is not what God wants of our lives.
I heard a podcast [Word on Fire 382] from a priest named Fr. John Reccardo entitled the Beauty of Hope. In his talk he quoted 5 scripture readings. One of those readings comes from the letter of St. Paul to the Colossians, (2:15) and he paraphrases; “[Jesus despoiled or] disarmed death, sin, hell and Satan.” Fr. John said, while things are spinning out of control and people are exceedingly anxious, St. Paul is telling us, Jesus triumphed over Satan and sin. There is no match, no rival to Jesus. Jesus is LORD! If Jesus is LORD, then don’t let anybody else or anything else be Lord.” “We are firmly in His hands.” He said, "if you're anxious, don’t worry, it’s going to get worse before it gets ... worse.”
I know I’ve talked about this before, but hope is not some sentimental word that is like a wish upon a star. Hope is a knowing. It is a sense of being sure of what it is that you believe. One definition I saw said, "biblical hope is an expectation with certainty that God will do what he has said."
Jesus did not enter into our world, suffer and die on a cross because He was trying to show how strong He was. I mean, He is strong, but that is not why the Father sent the Son. He sent His Son to show us that no matter how difficult things are, in the end, if you fall in love and live your life with Jesus as LORD, your death, your sin, your hells and your demons will be defeated! God has everything under control!
In our first reading, Isaiah was prophesying to a people who had been defeated by the Babylonians who nearly destroyed Jerusalem, completely destroyed their temple and exiled them from their nation of Judah. You think the Jews were anxious? In this reading Isaiah is trying to give his people hope.
Isaiah is prophesying about Cyrus who would become King of Persia and who would conquer the nation of Babylon. King Cyrus would then give permission to the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple.
What is so interesting about this reading is that King Cyrus knew nothing of the God of Israel. Isaiah speaking on behalf of God, says, “For the sake of Jacob (Jacob being the Jewish people), my servant of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you [King Cyrus] by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not.”
The LORD took King Cyrus by the right hand even though he knew nothing of God and gave him his power to defeat Babylon and allow the Jews to return to their native land and rebuild their temple.
God does not abandon his people. His people might abandon Him, but when we do, God seeks to restore his relationship with us even if it means using kings or presidents who know nothing of the LORD. And God will also use sin and destruction and evil to soften the hearts of his people, so they return to Him. We may not like it, but it is like how our children don’t like it when we insist that they struggle to do what is right in their lives. And just like our children if their hope is not in their parents, don’t know that difficult things are meant to help us grow.
The message here is that God uses all people and all situations as instruments in his plan. God has a hand in it. Hope says, while we may not like it, we know that God has things under control and further, hope says even if we lose this life, we should not be afraid. How many times does Jesus tell us, "don't be afraid." As St. Paul says out of hope, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him.”
In our second reading, Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians recognizes the hand of God in his newly established church. He recognizes the hope in his people.
Paul is giving thanks to God for the great work of this community. The work of “faith and labor of love and endurance in hope, [hope] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the midst of the powers that be, the Roman Empire, who was notorious for the persecution of the Jews and the Christians, Paul is encouraged by the hope of the Thessalonian community.
Paul goes on to say that this good news did not come from his words alone, this good news permeates into our hearts and minds through the power of the “Holy Spirit.” It is God himself who has that power. And what is it that God wants? He wants US! And while God will not force us to love Him and hope in Him, it takes God’s power through the Spirit to accept this gift of faith, hope and love.
While our Gospel reading today might not seem like a story of Hope, I believe that is exactly what Jesus is trying to give the Pharisees and Herodians.
Ironically the Pharisees and Herodians did not get along with each other. The Herodians supported King Harod and the Pharisees did not. The Pharisees wanted to conform to the laws of God and the Herodians wanted to conform the will of King Herod and the Roman empire that kept King Harod in power. For the Herodians, the census tax was not a big deal. For the Pharisees paying the tax meant supporting the Romans.
But what the two groups did have in common was their distrust and maybe even hatred of Jesus. So, both groups approach Jesus and ask him, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" If Jesus says, yes, it is lawful to pay the tax, then of course the Pharisees would take offense at that, but even more importantly it would also mean that Jesus’ allegiance was not really to God, solidifying their belief that Jesus was blasphemer, and a liar. On the other hand, if Jesus says, no it is not lawful, then the Herodians would be upset and likely turn Jesus over to Roman authorities for subversion.
Jesus sees through all of this and has an amazing response. “Repay to Cesar what belongs to Cesar, and to God what belongs to God.” But what was Jesus really saying to these people?
I can tell you this, it has nothing to do with separation of Church and state. So, the best way I can answer this is to tell you, and maybe you’ve heard this before, while we may live in this world, we are not of this world.
To live in any society, we need succumb and live within the boundaries and mores or customs of that society. In fact, we have an obligation to help our society to be the best it can be. But that does not change our allegiance to God. So yes, pay back to Cesar what belongs to Cesar.
Because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should also pay back to God what belongs to God. But what does that mean for us Christians? I think primarily it means we must love and worship God, but we also have an obligation to love our neighbor as ourselves. And to do that love thing, we also must have hope. Hope says, we can’t do this on our own. Hope says that for our hearts to change we must recognize that all humans have purpose and worth in the eyes of God, even those that seem so evil. That does not mean that we should not attempt justice. That we should not fight to keep ourselves safe and fight to ensure that our children have the opportunity to know our God and our Faith. But it does mean that we need to recognize in all this mess we have in our world, even the messes we make because of our own sins and demons, God will use that to fulfill his plan. Hope says, even though we have little or no control over these situations, so long as we repay to God what belongs to God, all will be well. Remember, Jesus disarmed sin, death, evil and Satan. God has control! To believe that is to have hope.
So, our job is to come to Hope. Hope removes all anxiety. Hope allows us to be fearless in our pursuits to be Christ to the world. Hope brings us to the conclusion that we too will be Saints, basking in the glory of heaven forever, no matter what happens in this world.
So, live in this world. Give back to Cesar what belongs to Cesar. But always remember in hope, we are not of this world, we are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. In hope give back to God what belongs to God.
In your prayers, pray that all people come to Hope. And when you receive Jesus into you today, use that power to go out into the world to spread hope, that good news that Jesus defeats death, sin, hell and Satan.