GIVE THE LORD, GLORY AND HONOR; HE ALONE, FOR THERE IS NO OTHER!

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 19, 2008


People get worried sick and frightened each time they think of battle alarms, war mongerings and posturings of people who seemed to have been born with an armalite rifle beside them. If we look at this last century just ended, with all the battles waged all over, with two world wars indelibly etched in the annals of human history in a matter of a hundred years, with the on-going threat of total annihilation, whether from nuclear, chemical or biological means, we would most likely ask ourselves – and even God Himself: IS THERE SOMEONE IN-CHARGE? IS THERE A GOD IN CONTROL OF HUMAN AND WORLD EVENTS? DOES GOD CARE AT ALL FOR THE OUTCOME OF HISTORY? IS HISTORY ON THE SIDE OF GOD?

These are legitimate questions. They speak about worries and fears that grip the human heart – today, as in the times of Isaiah, the prophet.

Let us go back a bit in time. You would remember that sometime in the history of ancient Israel, the great Kingdom of Babylon put all of Israel to rout, destroyed the glorious temple at Jerusalem, and banished all the Israelites to bitter exile in Babylon. This is known as the great Babylonian exile – a time of great sadness, a time filled with deep anguish and longing for the Jerusalem of old, for the temple – a time of profound zeal for the God who revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites – a God besides whom there was no other. We get a glimpse of this sadness and longing in the words of the psalmist “By the rivers of Babylon we sat mourning and weeping when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:11).

The Jews were pining for peace in their own land; they were longing to be reinstated in the land promised to them by Yahweh. Our questions now were also their questions; our worries now, their worries then. The Lord, through the prophet Isaiah answered them. The same Lord of history now answers us, too.

It is all too easy for us to lose our bearings when our expected salvation from God seems to be derailed by events that seem to be irreconcilable with God and His abiding presence in our lives. Why is there so much graft and corruption in our government? Why does God not do anything about it? Why is there so much hunger in the world? Why do evil men’s ways prosper and all that I endeavor end in disappointment (to quote Hopkins again!)?

Today’s liturgy are a big blow to our utter lack of appreciation for what God does, for what He is, in relation to human history. Isaiah gives us a powerful reminder about how God anointed Cyrus, the Persian, who in the year 538 B.C. issued an edict liberating the Jews from Babylon and allowing them to go back to Israel in order to rebuild the city and the temple. Isaiah takes care to point out that even Cyrus belonged to God (anointed him) and used him to write straight with crooked lines. Through Isaiah, Yahweh declares both to Cyrus and us: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

The Good News today is, indeed, good news to us who have a tendency to lose verve, focus, and courage at the thought of so many problems there are in the world (not excluding the big worry that now fills our minds and hearts – the big economic meltdown that governments are still in denial about). Who among us did not feel a certain discouragement at the seven-year old tragedy of September 11, 2001? Who among us did not experience some form of helplessness and hopelessness at the thought that things may be happening and no one up there seems to mind? Who among us now can claim he or she is not worried one bit about the undeniable recession that is beginning to take the whole world in its grip? It is now time for us to reclaim that lost trust, that loosening grip of faith in our hearts as the Lord reminds us in the person of Cyrus: that He uses all, including people, to ultimately further His plans; that things will ultimately fall into place; that the events of the world are happening not without guidance, not without anyone’s knowing. The Lord is firmly in-charge, and He even makes use of someone like Cyrus, who did not even believe in Him to start with. Cyrus, it must be remembered, called on a different God, for he was not a Jew. But no matter what name he used to call on his God, Isaiah and the Israelites knew that ultimately he was calling on the God of Israel, for there was no one else beside Him; He alone was the Lord! There was no question here of making choices for one or the other. There was only one God – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, of Jacob – and that included the God of Cyrus!

This Good News is corroborated and confirmed by the Gospel. Wanting to entrap Jesus, the Pharisees sent people to question him about duties to the emperor, whose image is stamped on coins. It thus belonged to Caesar, and what belonged to him must be given to him. The implication of his answer, however, is what Isaiah already said long before. God is the only God, besides whom there is no other. Everything belonged to Him, including Caesar, including Cyrus. Therefore only to God is due all honor and glory. There was no question of making choices here for either one or the other. The choice is clear – for God alone. It is therefore a mistake to read into this Gospel passage the issue of Church and State relations. It has nothing to do with the legal doctrine of separation between Church and State. It only has to do with the right relationship between humanity and God. And that right relationship meant all human activity, including economics and politics all fall within the sway of God and His Divine Will.

Throughout human history, we have had tyrants, we have had benevolent dictators, despots, and even criminals, (even very bad Popes and bishops – and of, course, priests!). We have seen so many wars, so much strife, so much disunity between and among peoples and nations. There was, and is, enough to keep us worried and fearful.

But the Good News maintains that the world is being directed purposefully, by God, who uses people to unfold His plan. There is a definite finality to everything. And that finality is written by God Himself.

In the meantime, however, there is a role for each of us to do. We all have to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. We have to do our roles as citizens of this world and of our country. We cannot live as if we were already in heaven. We do have to worry about everyday earthly things, like trash management, the traffic, paying taxes, doing our civic duties, etc. And we definitely will have to do something about the inevitable global warming, which has caused havoc in terms of the erratic and violent climate patterns we have been experiencing in recent years! Whilst we should give glory to God alone, we ought to remember that the “glory of God is man fully human, fully alive” (St. Irenaeus). It means that while we look up to God and long for Him in prayer, our feet and hands are fully occupied in work that also redounds to His glory. Our feet must be firmly planted on the ground. And our hands must be busy doing His work, and being in solidarity with others. Gone are the days of individualistic, privatistic spirituality that revolves only around “personal sanctification” that has nothing to do with social responsibility, social concern, and a commitment to social transformation. This, St. Paul also confirms as he thanks God for the Thessalonians as he called to mind their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.” They, too, like Cyrus, like Caesar, like all of us, belong to God. They were, like us, “loved by God” and “chosen” by Him.

All this boils down to one simple thing. Praising God, giving glory to Him, and loving Him ought not to translate into mere lip service. It is hard work. It is hard work precisely because God needs us to further His plan in the world. That means we ought to take seriously our duty to “give to God what belongs to God” even as “we give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” This calls for responsibility and fidelity to the calling He has given us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The next time you feel afraid and worried, try thinking about what you could do about it in your own little world. No matter how little, if that is the best you could, that is good enough for God. In the final analysis, it is not your ability that counts, but your availability.

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