•Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6 • 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-5 • Matthew 22: 15-21•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
After the Vietnam War, the military draft was ended and today the United States military is composed citizens who freely choose to be in the military. Not all of them, especially the very young, realize the implications of war. Many wounded warriors have returned home with lives broken in ways they never imagined possible. Whatever their motive for joining the military, they intended to serve our nation. We all benefit from their efforts. They ought to be respected and honored. I mean that sincerely and ask that you please remember it when I conclude this homily.
The passion, the fire burning in the soul of Jesus of Nazareth was his commitment to prepare and transform the hearts of people so “the reign of God” would emerge. We might even say that Jesus was obsessed with “the reign of God.” Unfortunately our catechisms, and even our liturgy is filled with such “a tangle of concepts and words” that when we are done, most people, even while thinking of themselves as Christian, still do not know exactly what Jesus meant by “the reign of God.”
“The reign of God.” The thing God wants for everyone is a full human life. Jesus demonstrated this by bringing fuller life to everyone whose life was diminished or threatened in any way. It seems that what a fully human life means is quite evident. Just sit down and make some notes about yourself. What do you want in your life? What is it you need? What is it that creates balance and peace for you? Your list about your own life will tell you or at least provide indicators of what a full human life is.
Apparently Jesus understood and appreciated that a fully human life is possible only when human beings are able to live with dignity. Examine his words and it is evident he was promoting a profound transformation of human social life. He was determined to enable people to live within a just society. This meant promoting the common good of all people. At a minimum the common good means justice, freedom, knowledge, habitation, health and nourishment for all people.
According to the written Gospels, the fire burning in the soul of Jesus provoked anxiety and concern among the leaders of both civil government and religion. Those leaders did not want to lose their privileged status in the society Jesus was challenging.
So people from the court of Herod and disciples of the Pharisees were sent to Jesus with a clever trap. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” We know how the Tea Party answers. Jesus answers the question in a most unexpected way. “Return to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and return to God the things that are God’s.”
The life and teaching of Jesus about “the reign of God” introduced into history a logic totally different from the one that underlies the power of Caesar. With eight simple words he extended that logic: ”return to God the things that are God’s” and sealed his own fate. He “is not thinking of God and Caesar as two powers, each of whom can make certain demands upon us. Caesar and God are not two parallel authorities. God is above every emperor, and the emperor must never demand what belongs to God.”
Now please understand this. My final thoughts in this homily presume I am speaking about someone others can identify as sincere in his/her commitment to imitate Jesus and live in harmony with “the reign of God.” That does not describe every nominal Christian or citizen of our nation! To be part of “Caesar’s military” is to take an oath to act and behave in ways that reject or at least contradict “the reign of God.” In certain circumstances that oath requires behavior that denies human dignity. It may require the killing of people and the destruction of all that provides a fully human life. Given the brutal, violent, destructive power of modern empires like our own, I think there will be more and more authentic Christians refusing to be part of an imperial military in which one is required to fire a missile or a rifle or a nuclear warhead. Such action destroys human life and all that someone like you wants or needs to create the balance and peace of a fully human life.