Sunday, October 22, 2017

WHOSE IMAGE IS THIS? A homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Year A, (Matthew 22:15–21)

The audio is here.

As Christians, while we are in this world, we have one foot in Eternity and one foot here.  We are both members of our nation and state and members of the Body of Christ and His Kingdom.  Which side takes preference reveals our true priorities and can determine our ultimate destination.  This same conflict appears in today’s passage from the Gospel. 
The Pharisees were not clergy.  They were the wealthy religious Jews who could afford to give all their attention to the various rules that grew up around the Old Testament Law of Moses.   For over the centuries since Moses gave the Law to the Jews they had added on layers of legal decisions and commentary that itself had become part of the Law.  For them happiness and peace came from strictly following the Law in all its detail.  The Herodians were the political followers and supporters of the half-Jewish family of the Herods.  If you want an idea of what the Herod family was like think of a cross between Eastenders and the Sopranos.  Not a nice bunch of people.  They were not religious Jews.  They thought of happiness and peace as making money and gaining power while keeping on the right side of the Romans.  These two groups (two of many factions) were not friendly to one another to say the least.  So our Lord who has come to save us and in the process bring true peace and happiness is opposed by a union of two groups that are otherwise bitter enemies.
This makes their question more interesting.  The Law forbade the use of images, especially idols.  The Romans, being pagans, used images everywhere even on their coins.  The question seems to be about how one is to relate to the occupying power.  If our Lord says not to pay taxes because of the image on the coin then he can be reported to the Romans as a traitor but if he says to pay the tax then he can be accused of acquiescing in idolatry as well as supporting the Roman occupiers. 
Our Lord’s answer is brilliant.  He asks for a coin and when they hand it over they already show that they themselves are using the Roman coinage.  The he asks that simple question: “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  It is Caesar’s, that is, the Emperor’s image, a pagan.  They are using the Roman coinage and therefore recognize the authority of Rome.  The coin belongs to Rome so one has to give it back in taxes.
The deeper issue, though, is about to whom we owe allegiance.  From the foundation of the State there was a tendency to think of Ireland as a Catholic state and therefore to over-identify Irishness and Catholicism.  That is dying out.  The danger is that we swing in the opposite direction.  Yet the question has troubled believers in different ways over the centuries.  The English martyr Sir Thomas More put it succinctly “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.”  That from a man who had held the highest office in England after that of the King.  “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first.” 
One could say that by being born and raised here, or for some of us having chosen to make this land our home, we bear the imprint of Irishness.  We are stamped, shaped by our culture of origin and the culture around us.  Yet when we were baptized a much deeper, eternal imprint was made on our very soul, that of Christ.  More, we became one body, one person with Him and we cannot lose that mark, that mark, that connection.  There can therefore arise a conflict between these two imprints.  Are we Irish or are we Catholic?  Do we cherish the imprint of Caesar or imprint of God-made-man?  What we owe to the government and what we owe to God and His Kingdom, the Church? 
Certainly we owe the Irish nation and the Irish State our allegiance (they are not the same thing for the latter is there to serve the former).  As long as both seek to serve the Natural Law, that God-given law of right and wrong that is known to us by reason then we can serve them.  We should never act in a way as to do harm to our neighbour or our people.  But what do we owe God?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no state, no nation, no world?  What do we owe Him without Whom there would be no possibility of eternal life?
We owe God worship, that is, at the very least attending the Sacraments with devotion and attention but also ordering our whole life to His service and praise.  We owe Him our faith, which is itself, along with everything else, His gift to us.  We express that faith through prayer, fasting and care for those in need.  We owe God obedience in all things, that is, doing the duties of our state of life for love of Him, avoiding and opposing evil, and doing good especially to those who would do us harm, or are in any kind of need.  By these means we truly love our neighbour and show our love for the God who holds nothing back from us. 

We have the imprint of Christ on our souls through baptism and confirmation, the imprint of Him who is the exact likeness and image of the Father.  The Father in sending the Son to us has held nothing back from us.  He has given us everything, holding nothing back so that we can give our whole selves to Him in return.  It is in this giving of ourselves to God and to others in love that we discover what it really means to be human.
While we are still here in this world we corrode through sin and the image of Christ can grow faint.  We can scrape away the grime and corrosion of this world, we can polish and bring out that imprint by doing as our Lady requested at Fatima: pray the rosary everyday, wear the brown scapular, to make sacrifices for the sake of saving sinners, to practice the First Saturday devotion (sincere confession and communion in a state of grace) as an act of reparation to her and to respond to Christ by seeking to live an ever more obedient, more holy life.

By these means we bring out and become the image of Christ in the world, wherein others can see Him and come to faith in Him.  To remain stained and corroded, dull and disfigured is to be a block for others.  We owe our Lord our total service for He has held nothing back from us.  When He come first in our lives then we lift our foot out of this world and place it in Heaven and after that it is only a matter of time before we are entirely and eternally in His Presence.

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