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SERVING GOD IN TODAY’S SOCIETY. A reflection for the 29th Sunday of the Ordinary Time, Year A.
By Fr. Modestus Mgbaramuko
Fri, 23 Oct 2020

Readings: Is 45:1,4-6; 1Thess 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21

    At the heart of today’s gospel, reading is a very devastating yet unspoken rebuke. We say “unspoken” because it did not need a duplication. But we also cannot say “unheard” because Jesus’ three leading questions that delivered the rebuke was abundantly heard and well-understood. Those who came to him were never friends, but they quickly became collaborators on this one, hoping to shame the gospel that Jesus preaches to them.

    Jesus’ first question is, “Why set this trap for me? In the second question, Jesus demanded, “Whose head is this?” And, in his last question, he led them to take yet another gaze at Caesar’s money right there in their own hands. So Jesus’s question, “Whose name is this?” was undoubted, their most regrettable embarrassment. Keep in mind that it was the Pharisees “who went to work” with “the Herodians” to entrap Jesus (Mt 22:15). Recall too that the Pharisees and their followers claim to avoid all contacts with Caesar’s (idolatrous) money in Jesus’ time. Together with the temple authorities, the Pharisees preferred to have tables set at the temple area to exchange all “pagan” money.

    In publicly highlighting whose image, likeness and name are on the coin, we have the marvel of public evidence. Such a public display of Caesar’s money, which shows it as readily available amongst those who claim to seek what is “lawful” in the commandments of God, should instruct us. More so, Jesus’ concluding exhortation to “pay back to God what belongs to God” should serve as our wake-up call for us. The interpretation is clear that while claiming to know God’s things, we often do not pay God his due in society and the conduct of our lives. To honestly give God what belongs to God, we must sincerely face and answer that question: what did you have that God’s grace and mercy never gifted to you?

     Another indication of today’s reading which the prophecy of Isaiah highlights is God’s action through King Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus was the “pagan” king who liberated Israel as God’s people from the Babylonian exile (587-539 B.C.). Today’s passage of Isaiah tells us how king Cyrus had acted most benevolently towards the restoration of an enslaved people. The “pagan” did God’s will. Cyrus was famous for assisting the rebuilding of  Jerusalem’s ruins, even without knowing Israel's God. Without precedence in those days, the victor could hardly spare the spoils of war, let alone invest in the restoration of the deity of a conquered people. That is until we learned this in Isaiah’s revelation to King Cyrus of Persia: “I called you by your name, I armed you, and I conferred the title on you though you did not know me: I am the Lord” (Is 45:4). So, even in hedonistic and sybaritic societies, God is the Lord!

   A revelation such as we receive from Isaiah today aligns with the message of the gospel. It reminds us that God alone is the one who has the first and most primary claim over our lives. Therefore, the readiness that we bring to serving God in the conduct of our individual lives finds attestation in our practice of honesty, justice, love, and compassion in the civil society. A remarkable example of such a real Christian life, both within the religious community of believers and in the broader civic society, is present in what we read from today’s second reading. It is indeed a call to give the Lord glory, honor, and worship in our civic society.

    Like Paul, how can we present our faith in action? How may the work of prayer, solidarity, and perseverance give us hope in today’s circumstances (1Thess 1:2)?  We are not to exclude our faith obligations in the community or fail to contribute our due to civic governance's well-being. Above all, we must join in practical actions needed for reform in today’s Nigeria.


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