“The Family of God: Rendering to Him His Due”

 

October 22, 2017

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45: 1 – 7/ Psalm 96: 1-6; 11-13

1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 10/ Matthew 22: 15 - 22

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

 

Setting up the background of the gospel, the Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus, and after they were bombarded by Jesus with parables as He talked about them and their failures, they recruited this group of people called Herodians.  They were Jews, but they were taking advantage the Roman occupation of Israel.  They were gaining from the fact that Rome was in power.  The Pharisees were entrapping Jesus where there was on one hand, a party of people who were in Rome to enrich themselves; and on the other hand, a people who were oppressed by human rule.  If Jesus says something, He will be hated by either one of the groups.   Jesus doesn’t like debate so He answers wisely.

 

Israel was a vassal state at this point and they were under Roman oppressions, which is why they were looking for a Messiah  to deliver them from this nightmare called Rome.   To the first century Jews, they bear the image of God and God owns them.  Also, they understood the commandment that said, “You shall not make any graven image of yourself.”  Caesar appeared very arrogant and idolatrous to them as he made coins bearing His image and His likeness. 

 

Given this, Jesus asks, “Do you seriously want us to talk about this idolatrous piece of metal than being concerned with the things of God?  Whose image and inscription does the coin bear?”  They answered, “Caesar’s”  Jesus replied, “So he owns that coin.  What I am only concerned about is, ‘Whose image are you made in? Give to Caesar what belongs to him; what bears his inscription and his image, but give to God what bears His image.”

 

Who bears His image?  We!  We give ourselves to God- our whole self.   Our agenda is not any of the political agendas available around, but God’s kingdom coming to earth. It is heaven colonizing earth, and this kingdom is not of this world.”  It is about the kingdom of God.

 

Sad that even in Christianity, there is this misunderstanding that we need to have our loyalty to two kingdoms: God’s kingdom and an earthly kingdom.  I am not saying that we rebel to the government that we belong to, as to saying that we need to prioritize our being citizens of the Kingdom.  In fact, we are only citizens of one Kingdom.   If we misunderstand this, and having this dualism and the compartimentalization of things, many times, these two kingdoms are opposite each other, and they are not compatible.  We have no dual citizenship.  We have only one allegiance to one King.

 

Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all Who is over all and through all and in all.”  1 Corinthians 8:5-6, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him.”   There is only one allegiance; one loyalty.  Jesus said, “Worship God only; serve Him only.”  The Message translation says, “Worship the Lord God and only Him.  Serve Him with absolute singleheartedness.”  At the end of the liturgy, we pray and say,”Grant us strength and courage to love and serve You with gladness and singleness of heart.”  We are to be holy gifts, and we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him.   Jesus says, “No one can serve two  masters.”  There can be no two loyalties.

 

Philippians 3:20 says that our citizenship (singular) is in heaven, and Philippians 1:27 says, “As kingdom citizens, we are to walk in a manner worthy of His kingdom and the characteristics of the Kingdom.  Peter says that we are to be peculiar people that would show forth the praises of God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We live in a world that doesn’t do this, and this makes us peculiar in this world.  We  are in this world, but we are not of it.  

 

The Bible has two definitions of “world”.  In John 3:16, “For God so loved the world,” which is His creation, His cosmos.  The “world” also means the fallen man’s system. It is the perverted system that the fallen man lives by.  We are not of that world;  we are in this world, but we are not of its system.  We are still the inheritors of the earth, and the participants in heaven’s colonizing the earth.

 

The phrase “Jesus is Lord”  had a different meaning in the first century Israel than it has now in the Church. When they said “Jesus is Lord” before, this meant that they were willing to lay down their lives for God.  Before, they would greet each other as “Caesar is Lord.”  The Christians would say, “Jesus is Lord.  There is only one Lord.”  This the reason they were persecuted and jailed because they won’t deny Jesus or betray Him.  They declared “Jesus is Lord” not “Caesar is Lord.”    “Jesus is Lord” before was subversive, seditious, rebellious claim, and they were willing to go to prison or death

 

Augustus Caesar was called one, a son of god; two, he was worshipped as a god. Third, he was called the bringer of good news; the savior of the world.   Fourth, his birth and reign was also called good news.  Fifth, his empire during his reign was called the kingdom of Caesar.  All were contrary to the titles that Jesus owned.  Only Jesus is the Son of God – John 1:18.  Jesus is only to be worshipped because He is God.  Jesus is Lord, the One and only Son of God.   Jesus is the Bringer of Peace, the Savior of the world.  His birth was the good news, and He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.

 

As citizens of the Kingdom and subjects of this King, we are to walk in a manner worthy of this Kingdom, which is very different from the world’s system.  The system says, “Take advantage of your neighbors; trample upon them on your way up to the ladder.”   God’s kingdom talks about loving your enemies.   Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.”  God loves indiscriminately.  One theologian says, “Love is the noun that God is; love is the verb that God does.”  God is love, so we are to love like Him so that we may be children be of God. The mark of a child of God is that he loves his enemies and he does not choose whom he loves.  

 

In the Jewish mind at that time, an enemy is Rome, where they wanted to revolt.  As a consequence, they will get crucified.  Rome is the torturer, the crucified, the oppressor, the taxer and the terror-monger. These people are those that Jesus said to love.  Love your enemies, even the vilest, the most evil and the most abominable of them - the loathsome and unlovable Romans.   This is what our King says to us.  Do good to those who hate you.  Do good to those who persecute you.  It is radical.  Imagine the Jews asking Jesus, “Do You mean that we need to love these Romans?   They collect all kinds of taxes from us.  They make us carry their stuff for one mile.  They steal our cloaks legally and You want us to love them and do good to them?”   Many said, “You are foolish. That is ridiculous.”  Yes, this is what St. Paul said, “The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world, but to you and me, citizens of the Kingdom, they are the message of life, and the message of salvation”  This points us to life.

 

Jesus further said in Matthew 5, “Do not resist an evil person.”  To resist is not doing anything, but it is not to repay evil for evil.  We repay evil with good.   We don’t repay in kind; we do not return the favor  tit for tat, but we repay evil with good.    Jesus said that in the Old Testament, it says, “An eye or an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  In Latin, it is called lex talionis – the law of just retaliation. In Tagalog: ang batas ng makatarungang pagganti.  Jesus cancelled this Old Testament commandment and said, “Don’t observe this. Observe what I say to you is the character of God the Father who loves His enemies and His persecutors.  He loves the good and the bad. He forgives our sins, where that forgiveness is not revenge, but forgetting what was done to you.  In doing so, we are giving to God what is due to Him – the giving of ourselves fully  to Him.

 

As Christians,  our priority is to give ourselves to God because we bear His image and He owns us.  Jesus did not allow the entrapment of the Pharisees. He did not weigh in on the political issues.  His agenda is not the agenda or the platform of any politician.  His agenda is what His father says to Him.  Doing His Father’s will was His food. 

 

We are to give God what is due to Him.  Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you.”  Maybe, the reason things were subtracted from the Israelites, being under the Roman rule, was because they did not first seek the kingdom of God.  God said, “Obey My commandments and you will find life. If you don’t obey, there will be consequences like other nations will oppress you because you did not recognize the day of My visitation.”    If we obey, we wouldn’t find ourselves asking, “Should we pay taxes or not?  Should we love this enemy or not?”   This is giving ourselves to God.  Not only are we, as individuals, made in the image and likeness of God.  All other people – sinners; those who need restoration - bear the image and likeness of God.   We need to give them back to God.  We need to restore them.

 

St. Paul said, “Recognize no one according to the flesh.”   Our problem is we do; we recognize according to their flesh – to their sin, to their weakness – and we allow these things to block the image of God that is indelibly in them.  If someone dies in a fatal accident, they call those people close to this person so that he can be identified because they are familiar to that person.   Famous celebrities wear a disguise so as not to be identified, but to those who are fanatic followers, they can easily guess their idol no matter what.

 

We allow our weaknesses to blur the image of God in us.  What we need to do in order to restore them back to God is to make sure that we are very familiar with the image.   Even if that person is under the weakness of the flesh, with the other sins and bondages, we don’t look at their weakness because the image of God is with them.

 

How will we familiarize ourselves with the image of God?  Through the Sacraments.  We recognize Jesus through the Eucharist, just like the story  of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.    We recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. We intimately get familiar with God, with His image at the Eucharist. After we do, we are sent to recognize Him in the damaged faces of our brethren.    It is a cycle as we come back again to meet Him and again do ministry.   It is a continuous cycle that we do until He comes again, and in the process, we grow.  

 

When we do ministry, there are two things to understand about it.  One, there is only one ministry, and that is the ministry of Jesus.  We are simply partakers and participants in this ministry.   Two, the purpose of the ministry is the restoration of what belongs to God.   The bearers of the image and likeness of God are to give back to God.  Render to Him what is His.  We continue to do this and we grow in this cycle continuously until one day, all of us are restored back to our original creation, which is the image of God, as it was in Adam. Thank God for the Second Adam who help us do this.  This is how we render God His due and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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