Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen October 22, 2023
Today's Scripture brought back memories of my High School days, especially those of my junior year that I spent at a school called Monson Academy. Near my home, Monson Academy was an elite school that prepared young men for college. Although I did not do very well in the year that I spent there, I did develop a friendship with two boys who were twins, Mort and Mark Cohen. The Cohen brothers were from New York City and were often alone when we had time off from school activities, so they would come to my house where we would play together. Their parents had fled Germany for France just as World War II was beginning, and this brought them to the United States where Mort and Mark were born.
Germany had declared that the Cohens and other fellow Jews who had left the country were no longer Germain citizens and therefore had no human rights whatsoever. The Cohens had arrived in the United States as citizens of “no country” just before the United States would close its borders to other stateless Jews. However, those who live in any country, who are not citizens, have no one who speaks for them, no one who guarantees their safety, no one who allows them to practice their religious beliefs, no one who provides for their health, education or right to work. However, none of those things seemed to make any difference to Mort and Mark and me, we simply spent our time in friendship, playing in the fields and eating my mother’s food.
Jesus lived and died as a Jew in his own country, in Roman occupied Palestine. Those who opposed him, tried to trap him into showing disloyalty to his faith or to the Roman government, he would respond with a single statement that would change history. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Now, everyone likes to think that they can interpret Scripture for themselves, that they know what Jesus says because they “read it in the Bible.” As Americans we like to think that Jesus was referring to our modern understanding of what we call, “a separation of church and State.” However, this is simply not true, for it is safer to say that Jesus recognized the obligations that bind us together, the duties that all people have, before we try to separate them.
Jesus insisted that the rights we have as human beings come from God. All people were created to know, love, and serve God. All of us are called into a divine life, through the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. Therefore, we must recognize that we are all equally loved by God. The image of God is not depicted on a gold coin, we are the image of God. The coin of Caesar is made of gold, the coin of God is made of humanity. We see Caesar through his currency, we see and know God through human beings. The problems the Cohen family faced have not gone away. People must still leave their homes, searching for a better life for themselves and their children, and as migrants they become stateless. They become mere beggars on the borders of more powerful nations. Countries still declare masses of people to be non-citizens, deprived of all human rights. Pity the massacred people of Israel, whose government must now respond in a way that will, at least hopefully, ensure the future lives of its citizens. And pity the Palestinian people, who must live under the control of terrorists, and not a government whose first concern is for their safety and rights.
The Christians of powerful nations cannot replace Jesus for their politics. Jesus did not endorse what did not yet exist, “the separation of church and state.” This is simply an excuse people use when they do not wish to do what is right. No, Jesus told us that we are all children of the same Father, and therefore we are all called to love and care for one another. Perhaps this might be an uncomfortable reminder, that when are days on this earth have ended, when what we looked like, the language we spoke, and the laws and rules we created, are now just dust, we will be called to judgement, where all that will matter, is the love and mercy we have shown.