October 18, 2020 (29th Sunday A)
Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate Mission Sunday with the theme, “Here am I send me.” Is. 6:8 In his message for today, the Pope invites us to see mission as “a free and conscious response to God’s call. Yet we discern this call only when we have a personal relationship of love with Jesus present in the church.” We are to bear witness of our faith in Christ and to proclaim the gospel. Mission Sunday is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to mission through prayer, reflection and material help. Let us sincerely pray for the success of mission efforts today and support missionaries everywhere.
Dear friends, for about 1 week, many young and courageous citizens of our country and friends of this nation, have taken to the streets, in the country and in many other cities of the world, to protest in the #EndSARS tagged peaceful rallies. Let us give thanks to God for all these young people and all who have given their support. Let us thank the young people for their courage and patriotism at leading this struggle for a better nation and a better future.
There is every reason for every Nigerian to be on the street and be a part of it. To have a government that won election to fight corruption and restore confidence in the system and yet to have the country going down deeper into the bottomless pit of perdition is beyond belief. The EndSARS protest has become the rallying point for the cries of the poor of our nation. Too many who have been denied their rights and freedom for too long. There are many young people who see no future here at home and are willing to go to any other nation to survive, while even ex- political office holders, are still drawing from government funds to satisfy their large appetite for opulence at the expense of the nation. These young people are shaping Nigeria’s moment of transition.
Other countries of the world should help our nation, by sending back children of politicians and denying them access, to what their own politicians have put in place, if they won’t fix this country. Our politicians should be denied access to health care abroad. Their stolen wealth, stored up in other nations, should be confiscated and returned to the country.
First reading (Isaiah 45:1,4-6)
The condition of the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon took a dramatic turn as Cyrus who had conquered Babylon, ruled that the exiles be allowed to return to their homelands. He allowed the return of the sacred vessels seized by Nebuchadnezzar when he looted and destroyed the Temple and he even ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple in 537 BC. How can one explain this miraculous turn in the condition of the people? The Prophet Isaiah provides an answer in today’s reading to prove that the Lord himself is the God of history who directs the course of everything even international politics. He can achieve his purpose in spite of any of us. If His chosen people fail to keep to his covenant, he will raise strangers to fulfil his purpose.
Cyrus is called, the Lord’s anointed, ‘whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him.’ This is a title that is usually used for priests, and the Lord’s promise to hold Cyrus by the hand is a further guarantee of God’s support and the fact that he is called by name completes what ordinarily happens at a royal coronation in the ancient times—anointing, holding the chosen one by the hand, and calling him by name. The prophet therefore portrays Cyrus as one chosen by God to carry out a saving mission for the good of his people, though he was a pagan. God directs the politics of the world even when we fail to acknowledge it.
Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)
In this letter which came in the early years of Paul’s own conversion, he deals with the “Last Things” as its theme. For him, while the prophets talked about the coming ‘Day of the Lord,’ he believes that Divine intervention has taken place already in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Today's selection deals with the opening greetings of the letter. He identifies the authors of the book as: Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, and his greeting is that of ‘grace and peace,’—the mention of ‘grace’ is a reminder of the call to the Christian life as a free gift of God to be treasured. ‘Peace,’ is that sense of well-being which comes from an awareness that one is living a life that is pleasing to God. Paul discloses the content of his prayers on behalf of these people, as that of thanksgiving for their faith, about their labour of love and their steadfastness of hope. Such a life of grace is made possible only by the trinitarian love which comes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21)
In the time of Jesus, and to the time of Matthew’s writing, the Pharisees were obviously an influential group among the Jews. Matthew presents them as hostile to the new way of life which Jesus brings. They were always plotting to trap Jesus and bring his ministry to an end. No wonder then this gospel passage presents one of such tactful ploys to get Jesus trapped in his words which might set him against either the people who thronged to listen to him or the authorities, who might arrest him.
The Pharisees had gone into an alliance with the Herodians in this instance and their spokesperson approached to ask, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us then, what do you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The compliment on the sincerity of Jesus and his fearless attitude in presenting his message seems good. But if they know this much, how come they did not believe him? This is pure hypocrisy.
The question asked is one that no doubt must have agitated the minds of many in the time of Jesus. There were those who held on to the opinion that taxes be paid only to God in the Temple and that the Emperor had neither real claim on Jewish obedience nor right to Jewish taxes. Palestine was under the Roman Empire and as a result, it's citizens enjoyed many social and economic advantages which the taxes are used to fund. A refusal to pay will amount to rebellion against Rome with dare consequences. So for some, it is a matter of the lesser evil to pay. Matthew sees this question as born out of malice, the aim is to get Jesus to speak out on a burning and sensitive political and economic issue. Jesus however got the questioners into an awkward situation by asking them for a coin. It turned out that Roman coins bore the image of the Emperor while they had a different currency used in the Temple. But since they were comfortable to use those coins for business, they should be ready to pay the taxes that keeps that political and economic system running.
What belongs to Ceasar? It is what God has entrusted to his care— political power, the rulership of the Roman Kingdom which extends to Palestine at the time of Jesus. That he controls the currency—the means of exchange is a sign of that. What belongs to God? Everything, including Ceasar himself and all that has been entrusted to his care. All authority belongs to God and is given to men so that they can order the affairs of their people and care for creation. Love of God must translate to love of neighbour. Those in political offices therefore have a duty to rule in such a way that promotes the dignity of the people under their care. If they fail to do so, civil disobedience is one of the ways by which the people demand for their rights.
Jesus told them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This is a very loaded message from Jesus to his listeners. On the Nigerian note is written, “Central Bank of Nigeria,”— simple enough; on the US Dollar note is, “Federal Reserve Note, United States of America”—this is clearer, the note in your hand belongs to the Federal Reserve, it’s just in your custody. On the British Pound note is written: “Bank of England” and underneath, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand, the sum of……” This is the clearest, the bearer being the one whose image appears on the note, represented by the Bank who issued it. While it is the duty of everyone, Christians inclusive, to pay their taxes in the right amount to the state, for the provision of the amenities we enjoy in common, there is also the obligation to give to God what belongs to him, and that is everything— “YOURSELF.” According to Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” V27, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” When Jesus says, render to God what is God’s then, while the coin goes to Caesar, the human person goes to God. It is that image of God in us, that Jesus came to renew making us through baptism, adopted sons and daughters of God. Where you fail to recognise the other as made in the image and likeness of God, his/her dignity is at stake, and the fellow is treated like trash. It is in that image that our freedom and dignity is founded.
Think about what you do and the life you live, does it truly reflect that you belong to God? Belonging to God is chiefly about the love you share--love of God and love of neighbour. Your generosity in following the commandments and your commitment at helping those in need. That is how to develop that true image of yourself.
Today's celebration of MISSION SUNDAY is an invitation to us all to reconsider our attitude to spreading the good news. The Church and indeed the Christian Faith is about going forth and proclaiming the good news in a manner that leads people to the fount of Baptism and the Fountain of Life, Christ the Lord. Some participate in the mission by going while others do so by offering material help to those on mission. Our second collection in church today, together with other churches worldwide will be sent to Rome, to help in mission lands to bring the good news closer to more people. Mission dioceses – receive regular annual assistance from the funds collected, for catechetical programs, seminaries, the work of Religious Communities, for communication and transportation needs, and for the building of chapels, churches, orphanages and schools. These needs are funded from what is collected each year. Let us support those who work in those difficult terrains, in order to bring the faith to the ends of the earth.
Let us pray: Lord bless all those on mission this day and send more labourers into your vineyard. Amen. May the Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!