What Do We Owe God 2017

What Do We Owe God?

One of my heroines in the Catholic Church is Sister Helen Prejean. You may have heard her story it is the basis for the movie Dead Man Walking in which she is played by Susan Sarandon. She is a strong advocate for the termination of the death penalty in the United States, something the Pope recently reaffirmed as part of the doctrine of the Church. This article isn’t so much a story about Sr. Prejean’s work to end the death penalty as it is something she once taught me. I once was at a church conference and heard Sr. Prejean speak. She delighted the audience with her caddy way of referring to our Lord and Savior as “Sneaky Jesus.”

We get a glimpse at “Sneaky Jesus” this weekend in the Gospel. He certainly rises to the same level of trickster thinking that the Pharisees were using to ensnare him. The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus betraying core beliefs about Judaism so that they could use his testimony to persecute him. The dilemma they present to Jesus was a commonly disputed problem of the time. In a culture where there was no concept of the separation of Church and State, the observant Jew had a predicament. Participation in the taxation and operation of government was thought to be participation in the belief of the government’s deities as well. Out of pragmatic experience, the Roman occupiers governed the land but allowed the Jewish inhabitants to keep their own religion if they wanted. The compromise was that they still had to pay the Roman tax, but if the Jews participated in the tax, were they not in fact giving money to another god and denying the primacy of the God of Israel?

It was a tricky problem to answer because if they refused to pay the tax, the Romans who would imprison, harass, and do other various and sundry things to oppresses non-compliant offenders. Sneaky Jesus however was able to work his way out of the trap and it at the core of today’s Gospel reading (MT 22:15-21). He said a line that is one of his all-time hits list, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”

Boom. Drop the mic. End of conversation. Jesus hits a home run.

Sneaky Jesus was able to move past the binary choice he was given into a dynamic third option allowing for a religious Jew to participate in Roman society with good conscious. Of course, what most people heard was just the first phrase in his response, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” It is usually what everyone latches onto. Sneaky Jesus says something more however that often gets overlooked. He adds the all important phrase, “Give to God what is God’s.”

Amazing how he slipped that in there and would that we paid more attention to what he said. His statement infers that we should ask ourselves a rhetorical question “What belongs to God?”

The answer comes back to us befalling all hubris. Everything. The wind and the ability to feel it, the earth and our ability to touch it, music and our ability to hear it, light and our ability to see it. Everything we have belongs to God. How shall we make a return?

In the coming weeks, we will be discussing in greater detail the resources of the parish and how we are called to be stewards of all the gifts that are given to us. When we move through that process, I hope and pray we will have the ability to consider the words of Sneaky Jesus. I hope that we can see that everything we have belongs to God. Are we willing to utilize everything we possess so it more closely adheres to the will of God? Are we willing to give to God what belongs to God? Or are will still stuck on Caesar?

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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