In today’s gospel the Pharisees are trying desperately to get rid of Jesus. If he says you can pay taxes to Caesar, then he’s on the side of the Romans and the Jewish people who hated the Romans would become his enemy. But if Jesus says not to pay Caesar, then he’s guilty of treason and they can hand him over to the Romans.
Somehow, Jesus saw straight through this. His answer was not just clever. It had a very basic message that we often forgetGod is in control, not us! We don’t need to try and manipulate God or others. If we are faithful to God, and work within our situation, God will do the rest. So how does God work within any situation?
Our first reading today tells the story of what happened to the Israelites under the emperor Cyrus. The Prophet Isaiah calls Cyrus “God’s Anointed One.” He was a Persian King who had conquered the Babylonians, the people who had taken the Israelites into captivity. Wanting to be seen as tolerant and good, Cyrus allows the Israelites to return home and he helps them to rebuild their temple.
It is important to see how Isaiah sees Cyrus. Cyrus is the ruler over people in a large empire, but Cyrus falls under the providence of God. God is working through him, though Cyrus does not know the one who calls him by name. God is the creator. God is the source of all life and all living things, all humans, Jewish or other. The inner dynamic of the Spirit of God is working silently away in this situation.
Our God is a God of surprises. In the gospel, Jesus is asking us to reflect on our own sincerity as we seek a Christian response to the challenges and problems in our lives today. I think it is interesting how the United States Congress and Senate have abandoned their latest campaign to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Could it be that the Spirit of God is working now in a certain way in a specific situation to change our minds about the way we do things now and in the future? After all, in the wake of the Depression, we created Social Security, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Securities Exchange Commission, and other important initiatives for getting people back to work and creating a safety net so that people wouldn’t fall through the cracks. God always works through people and not just one individual.
St. Paul was an amazingly active and energetic apostle, yet always in response to the guidance he received from the Holy Spirit in prayer. In tough times, we too need to rely on God’s providence. If we put our trust in God, and listen to his voice, we can persevere in real hope, working especially to help our neighbors in need, knowing that what we do comes from our faith in God. Just as the people and things we expect to help us may disappoint us, sometimes God acts in the most unlikely ways. So by all means we ought to ask God for what we want. But let’s be open to the ways God may want to respond. Let’s depend on God’s initiative and not on our own. In today’s gospel, out of a small piece of political crossfire between the Pharisees and Jesus comes the reminder of just how much we owe and to whom we owe it.
Fr. Bob Kelly