Homily, Ordinary Sunday 29A
They say there are just two things guaranteed in this life: death and taxes. Most people are not too thrilled about either one. While we live this short life, we are called to “render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” to serve well as citizens of a kingdom that is passing away. Even this well-known phrase from the Gospel illustrates how temporary kingdoms of this world tend to be. “Render unto Caesar.” Well, there aren’t any Caesars around anymore, or at least the names have changed because their kingdoms do not stand the test of time. It may not even be too much longer before Congress or the presidency is rendered inconsequential by a panel of unelected judges in our own country. In fact, this has already happened many times before. And the laws of the land really have no effect on roving mobs of looters and arsonists when there’s no one willing to enforce those laws. The kingdoms of this world are not built to last, and the United States is no exception.
Even so, it’s important that we do uphold the law, pay our taxes, and respect lawful authority, authority that God Himself has entrusted to those who rule. This authority can be and often is abused by those who hold it in these earthly kingdoms, but God intends it for our good and the good ordering of society, for the blessings of peace and tranquility. In our first reading, the title “Messiah” or “Anointed One” is given to someone who’s not even Jewish. The secular emperor Cyrus is called “Messiah.” Even though Cyrus is a Gentile, he becomes an instrument of God as he gives the order that the Jews be allowed to return to the Promised Land and brings an end to their lengthy Babylonian Exile. All authority ultimately comes from God, and when it is exercised wisely, even secular rulers cooperate with God’s plan for His creation. Still, the political approach that many of us often have—especially during an election year—might be summarized more accurately in a line from the Fiddler on the Roof. Someone asks the Rabbi if there is a proper blessing for the emperor, for the Tsar of Russia. The Rabbi replies, “Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!”
If we owe respect and obedience and the aid of our prayers to those who rule in earthly kingdoms that are passing away during our short stay in this life, we owe much more to the One whose kingdom will have no end, to God Himself, who exercises authority only and always for our genuine good. To Jesus Christ, who “died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Give “to God what belongs to God.” Give to Him that which bears His image and His inscription. Each of us was made in God’s image and likeness, and so we must give our entire selves, our life, our death, everything we are back to God. And God’s inscription is on our hearts and our minds, where God has inscribed His own Law through the Holy Spirit given to us, deserving our full obedience, a Law that is higher and far more perfect than any law of the land (cf. Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 1:22).
Each one of us is given only a short time in this life, the blink of an eye against the backdrop of eternity. Death—like taxes—is a guarantee. The mortality rate of human beings is still 100%. Make friends for yourselves with false and fleeting wealth, so that when this life is over, the Saints may welcome you into eternal dwellings (cf. Luke 16:9). In this Eucharist, God gives us everything in giving us Jesus Himself, but how often do we fail to respond to God’s great generosity? Or we respond half-heartedly, giving God only what’s left over. How often are we so set on spending our short life on our own small plans and trivial goals that we never open ourselves up to God’s designs for us?
The one purpose of our life on this earth is to become part of God’s heavenly and everlasting kingdom, safe from the rise and fall of so many earthly kingdoms. We only get one life, and no one knows how long it will be. God alone can satisfy our infinite desires. God alone is worthy of our unconditional allegiance. Why not let God be in charge of your life? His reign will never come to an end, and those who have served Him faithfully in this life will also reign with Him forever in the life to come.