for Sunday, October 18, 2020
In the first reading for this Sunday, the Prophet Isaiah, actually the Second Isaiah, makes a startling statement. He refers to King Cyrus of Persia, a pagan, as someone who has been anointed by God. A pagan as the Messiah? Definitely unheard of in the Hebrew communities. Isaiah calls Cyrus anointed because God used him to restore the people of Israel from their exile. Cyrus was the king of Persia. The Hebrew people were being held in Babylon. They had no strength of their own. They just had faith that somehow God would deliver them from their bondage. And God did. Nations fell before Cyrus. Kings ran from him. Babylon fell. One of Cyrus' first acts in Babylon was to restore the captive peoples to their homelands. The Jews returned to Judea. It was as shocking and as sudden as the fall of communism at the end of the last century. The prophets had said that the Babylonian captivity was a temporary punishment from God for the crimes of the people of Judea. They prophesied that when the time of punishment was complete, God would restore His People to Judea and Jerusalem. God used Cyrus to fulfill his promise. Cyrus, in the eyes of the writer of Second Isaiah, was anointed, chosen by God to complete a particular mission.
The Gospels relate a second shocking statement regarding a pagan ruler. This time the statement was made by Jesus. The Pharisees and Herodians plotted together to frame a gotcha question to Jesus. First of all, the Pharisees and the Herodians had little in common. The Pharisees were very strict in their interpretation of the law. They had intricate, detailed laws and rituals all carrying great weight and all meant to preserve a fundamental commandment of God. For example, the commandment, "Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath," was to be preserved from declaring that there can be no work on the Sabbath. The concept of work was intricately defined. There was a set number of steps that one could take when carrying a water bucket from a well. If the well was one step further, then the Sabbath would be violated.
The Herodians were the exact opposite. They were extremely loose. King Herod was hardly a Jew at all. He was a recent convert to Judaism, doing so only so he could be named King of Galilee. Like his father, who called for the killing of the innocents at the time of Jesus' birth, Herod had hardly any conscience. He had an affair with his brother's wife, then divorced his own wife and married her. This is the woman called Herodias. She probably took on the name of her new husband. She was the woman who had her daughter demand the head of John the Baptist. John the Baptist had condemned the King's immorality.
The Pharisees and Herodians had one thing in common: they both wanted to discredit Jesus before the large crowds that followed him. So they asked their gotcha question: "Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not?" If Jesus said, "No" the Herodians would certainly report him to the Romans as seditious. If He said, "Yes," the Pharisees would tell the people that this proves that Jesus was not a real Jew but a collaborator with the pagan Romans. Jesus turned the tables by saying, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." He was telling them to recognize their responsibilities to the Romans, and more than this, recognize their responsibilities to their God.
Actually, the Roman Empire turned out to be a vehicle for the spread of the Kingdom of God. Roman roads, Roman trade routes, the Pax Romana, the general peace that Rome brought after they conquered almost everyone, the unity of most of the then known world under the Romans, all provided a means for the Christian missionaries to travel long distances and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, like Cyrus, God used those no one would expect to promote his plans, the pagan Romans.
God used pagans to accomplish his plans. How much more will He use us who are His People? God has a plan for each one of us, which is all part of His divine plan for the human race. Every one of us is called to make the presence of God real in the world. Since we are each unique, the presence that we each bring to the world is a reflection of God the world never saw before and will never see again. He uses each one of us for His Divine Purpose.
Those who are married can validly say, "God created me to love Him through the love I give to my spouse and my children. No woman, no man, has ever been loved the way that I am able to love my spouse. No children have ever been loved in the way that I can love my children. When I choose to step away from selfishness and love as God loves, sacrificially, then I can play my part in the Divine Plan." Those who are not called to the sacrament of marriage can recognize that God has another way for them to promote and strengthen his kingdom. And our young people can say, "I was created to love God at this stage of my life as a child or Teen seeking out the course God has set for me. At the same time I am also called to make Him present in my school in the way I live my faith and in the ways that I reach out to those who are hurting."
During World War II, that horrible war of four generations ago, the British people had a saying that defined everyone's part in the war. They called it "doing my bit." That bit might be that of an infantryman charging a bunker, an airman flying over enemy territory, a seaman working at the destruction of enemy submarines, or any role played in the military, even a clerical noncombatant role. That bit might be the work of a citizen at home supporting the war effort, growing extra crops, donating blood, working extra hours in the munitions factory. That bit might seem like little to some, but every single action of the military as well as those of each of the citizens all led to the eventual victory of the British over those attacking their country. Those who died in the war were heroes. Their bit cost them their lives. Those who lived might not be remembered on war memorials, but their bit had lasting value to the people of Great Britain.
Well, all of us have our bit to play in the work of the Kingdom of God. That bit might be something of which everyone is aware, or that bit might be something that no one sees but God himself. It really does not make a difference whether our bit is known or not. What matters is that our effort leads to the eventual victory of the Kingdom of God over the forces of evil that attack His world.
We have to stay attuned to the Presence of God in our lives, so that we can come to a deeper understanding of what it is that God wants from each of us, His call is deep within our hearts. If our hearts are closed to God, if our hearts are muddied with the immorality of the world, then we will not be able to discern the path God is calling us to fulfill his plan for us. But, if we do our best to be good Catholics, living our faith, then we will come to an understanding of the directions the Lord wants us to take so that we might do our bit in His plan for mankind.
God used the pagan King Cyrus of Persia and the pagan Romans as instruments in the fulfilling of His plan. How much more will He use us, the people He has ushered into an intimate sharing of His life? No one is insignificant in the battle for the Kingdom of God. Every one of us has a role to play in that Kingdom. We are all part of His Plan. May we have the courage to do our bit.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Isaiah 45.1, 4-6
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5
Gospel: Matthew 22.15-21
This material is used with permission of its author, Rev. Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino, Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL. Visit his
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