Fr Dom's Homily
Year A 2020
Fr Dominic Orih
We often say that God works in mysterious ways. Who and what God chooses to work with and the manner in which God chooses them, is the one thing that goes beyond our understanding, because how God does it trumps all of our checklists and boxes and expectations and plans. Today, we are presented with readings that reveals to us that whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, honourable and virtuous, cannot be held hostage by a particular group or tribe or tradition. It seems God knows how to use “useable instruments” to bringing about the Divine plan of salvation for all of creation. This could come in places, things and people wherein we least expect them to come from. Truth, as Richard Rohr said, does not take sides. I would add that it breaks every barrier to stand so that no one can hold it hostage.
Bishop Robert Barron said that there is always a universal background to everything that God does with and for his people Israel. I believe that this universal pattern undergirds everything that we read in the Bible. The God of Israel is the God of all people and of all things, Bishop Barron said. This relationship and dynamic are essential to remember in the bible especially as we look at our First Reading today from Prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks of Cyrus, who was the king of Persia and he said that God has taken Cyrus, a pagan king and anointed him to subdue nations and strip the loins of kings. He continued that God chose Cyrus for the sake of his servant Jacob and have called Cyrus by name and conferred on him the title of the anointed one. If you are like me, you’re beginning to wonder, why would God confer on Cyrus, a pagan, a Persian king, the title of an anointed one, or in other words, a Messiah? This is why!
In 587 BC, the Israelites were taken into exile by the Babylonians; that’s when the Babylonian Exile happened. However, there came a time when the Babylonian Empire grew weak and it was conquered by one Persian king named Cyrus. Now what Cyrus did after his conquest of Babylon was what made him a “useable instrument” before God. He declared to release and liberate the people of Israel who were held bondage in Babylon, and he promised to fund the rebuilding of their temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians.
In a world that was steeped into a tribal understanding of who God is and who God is for, in a world where other nations measure the power of their god by the way they conquer other nations, this king broke every rule and set a whole tribe different from his tribe free; and not only that, decides to help them rebuild their place of Divine worship, which means he is supporting the worship of the God of Israel.
Before the liberation of the Israelites by Cyrus, the people of Israel would’ve seen him as the enemy, the gentle, and hence useable by God, because he was not one of them. And yet, it was the outsider, the gentle, the one that was least expected to set them free, who became the very instrument God used to set the Israelites free and set them up as they return to their homeland.
In the dualistic society that we live in today, it is easy to hold the “us against them” mentality. My group, my tribe, my people are better than their group or tribe or people. And so, we believe that we have the truth, the good news, the goods, the virtues, the honour, and others don’t have any of those. We put God in our tribal, group box so that God is just for us and against others, without realising that God permeates all things and works through all things, using those who allowed themselves to be used by God. God can use things and people from other traditions, tribes and groups different than our own groups and tribes in the cosmic wave of salvation. God is saving all of creation. So, whatever that is good, true, beautiful, loving, cannot be held hostage by a particular group.
In our Gospel today, Jesus reflects that in his response to the Pharisees and the Herodians who were out to trap him so that they could find something to use against him. They asked Jesus whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not? Now, you have to know that the Pharisees are the conservatives that hated the Romans for the way they have invaded their land. And so, any support of the Romans in a way including paying of taxes, they deemed them deeply offensive to their culture and to God. The Herodians on the other hand, would be considered as the liberals who were used by the Caesar to rule in the land. They might be considered by the people as puppets being controlled by their puppet masters – the Romans. So, if Jesus tells the people to pay taxes, the Pharisees will be offended, and if he asks the people not to pay taxes, the Herodians will be offended. Fascinating, Jesus didn’t give the answer they would’ve wanted, instead he says; “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Jesus took what is good in both groups and discarded what was not good in them. The two groups were left with nothing to trap Jesus.
As Richard Rohr would always say, Truth cannot take sides. If it is true, it is true everywhere. God knows how to use things from the people, or places, or events that we don’t like to actually save us. Just as something good was seen and used in Cyrus, an outsider and pagan, Jesus was able to use something good in both groups of the Pharisees and the Herodians and discarded what was useless. Jesus leaned on his unitive consciousness that everything belongs, to overcome the dualistic entrapment of the Pharisees and the Herodians that relied heavily on “either or” mentality.
So, may you overcome the need to operate in a binary way. When it comes to the soul level of your being and your spiritual consciousness, binary outlook to things does not work. We believe in a God who is more than anything we could think of or imagine and yet deeply personal as one who is close to us as the breath we take. God works in mysterious ways and God can use anyone, anything in the great act of cosmic salvation. May you allow yourself and the events that you encounter become “useable instrument” in this great act of salvation. Amen.
And may God bless you!