October 22, 2023

As we move into the second half of the month of October, we are quickly making our way through the Season of Ordinary Time and are already observing the 29th Sunday of the season. Our Gospel reading from St. Matthew follows immediately upon last Sunday’s Gospel. Today’s account is the first of four controversies in which Jesus’ adversaries question him about topics of Law, belief and behavior. After Jesus finishes his teaching in parables directed to some of his harshest opponents, the Pharisees initiate their plotting against him. Their plan is to entrap him. They cleverly decide to bring in the Herodians, those who supported the Roman occupation and system of taxation, which the Pharisees themselves disputed. Jesus would be sure to offend one side or the other when the question of paying taxes to Caesar was at issue. Better yet, he could be seen in opposition to Rome, getting himself in trouble as a rebel.

The holy anxiety for the Gospel is the only anxiety that gives peace.

Pope Francis

Their plan is to disarm Jesus with flattery so that he must either answer their question or appear untruthful and acting contrary to his own teaching. Jesus’ immediate response turns the tables. He knows their malice, which motivates them to put on a show. Jesus calls them “hypocrites,” since they are playing a part in the drama they set up, pretending to ask a genuine question. When Jesus asks them to show him the coin, he forces them to acknowledge that the coin has the inscription of Caesar on it. Caesar’s name on the coin means that the coin must belong to Caesar. Paying the tax simply means giving back to him what already belongs to him. Jesus doesn’t ask them, “Which things belong to God?” But we can almost hear it as an unspoken question. How would we answer that most fundamental question – “Which things belong to God?”

Each autumn we conduct our annual “Covenant Renewal” process and commitment weekend. Previously, we had called this the “Stewardship as a Way of Life” commitment weekend. We adjusted the title last year to recognize that the covenant we are renewing was originally begun by God when we were baptized. It was then that God adopted each one of us as his beloved sons and daughters, gave us the gift of his Spirit and promised us the inheritance of eternal life. Sometimes we forget that God took the first step with each of us.

Our annual “Covenant Renewal” will take place at each Mass next weekend. Renewal materials were sent to each registered household last week. Please spend some time prayerfully reviewing our invitation to renew. We are asking each person in our parish to increase their time in prayer (individual and community) each week and to participate in a ministry of some kind. The first steps in our response to renewing our covenant are trust and gratitude.  

As God’s beloved sons and daughters, we believe that everything we have is God’s gift to us. All that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, who loves us more than we can ever understand. Even in our darkest moments, God has never abandoned us. We saw the truth of that belief during the past few years, as we lived through the very dark and difficult times of the COVID pandemic. Our moments of restlessness during that dark time were an invitation to turn to God in different ways. We take our cue from Saint Augustine, who also experienced a similar restlessness in his own life. His inner turmoil led him to a deeper realization – “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

We can receive God’s gifts with open hands and say “thank you,” or respond with closed fists and claim God’s gifts as “mine!” If we receive them with open, grateful hands, God’s gifts can flow through us and bless those around us. This is our call. We may have begun life as babies with clenched fists, claiming everything as “mine!” But our call now is to renew our covenant as grateful sons and daughters, accepting everything we receive and sharing it with others.

Next Sunday, we will have the opportunity to take the next step in living our covenant with God as beloved sons and daughters. Let us trust in God’s faithful love for us and be grateful for all that God has given us. Hopefully, we can renew our commitment by increasing our individual and community prayer time and by committing to serve in a ministry of some kind. Please look for the important “Covenant Renewal 2023” materials mailed to our homes.

We are approaching the “peak season” of the autumn colors. God’s hand is apparent all around us. Let us take time to notice the beauty. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.

– Father Jim Murphy