Monday, 10 October 2011

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

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Isaiah 45:1.4-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21

The Pharisees are not happy.

Jesus has just told (last week) a parable about a king who had lovingly prepared a wedding feast only to discover that those who had been invited refused to come. The Pharisees knew Jesus was speaking about them and they were not happy.

To add insult to injury the parable suggested that the gentiles, the non-believers, the 'dogs' were to enter the feast instead of them. How absurd, how impossible, how unthinkable! So there they go, stalking off, angry-faced and bent on revenge.

What Jesus encountered, of course, was their blindness. The Pharisees had absolutely no idea who Jesus was and were somehow unable even to recognise the holiness and truth of his words and deeds. Jesus appeared on the horizon of their deep conviction they had everything worked out and challenged them so radically that it became for them a question of either clinging to their identity or of acknowledging his. Clearly they opted for the former.

We might remember here the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink… . The Pharisees would have done well to recall the response of faith that woman made to the Lord.

So we are told: The Pharisees went away… . They left the company and presence of Jesus and went away - never a good idea!

Judas, too, left the company of the Lord and look what happened to him. To leave the Lord is always a big mistake; to remain in his presence is a guarantee of all things good.

They went away to work out between them... . How foolish they were, and how confident of their own powers and resources! They were suffering from the same distressing mentality so prevalent today. It's called the we-can-fix-it mentality and it's everywhere: politics, medicine, psychology, technology, finance, and even religion.

These poor unfortunates had such a serious dose of the disease that they thought, can you believe it, that they could 'fix' Jesus.

They put their heads together and came up with a plan: to trap Jesus in what he said. In other words, they were going to 'trap' the Word of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word through whom the whole universe was created!

Confident of success, and yet anticipating the remote possibility of failure, they didn't bother confronting Jesus themselves but sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, another group who wanted to do away with Jesus. It is typical of cowards, as well as criminals, that they fire their bullets from the guns of others.

And so step one of their grand strategy is to flatter Jesus, to awaken his ego and cloud his thinking.

Flattery, of course, is not praise, and certainly not worship. So lavish is their fawning that even the most conceited of us would be put on our guard. The impregnable humility of the Master recoils at once from their hypocrisy.

Ironically, every word of flattery they speak to Jesus is the truth, but so full of pretence and blindness are they that on their lips the word of truth becomes evidence of their malice.

Tell us your opinion, then.

Oh dear! Are they serious? Are they really asking the Son of God for his 'opinion'? Has no one told them that Jesus does not have opinions; not a single, solitary one?

Opinions belong on this side of the gulf which separates us from absolute truth. They may be our most treasured possessions, flaunted and paraded, but they in no way oblige God, or in any way hinder the proclamation of truth.

You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me?

The response from Jesus is strong and uncompromising but it is not an attack. Jesus is not 'name-calling' for he has not come to condemn but to save, and every one of his utterances intend this loving purpose.

Let me see the money you pay the tax with.

With unbounded compassion Jesus takes these hypocrites by the hand and leads them into their own trap so that he might show them the 'escape route'. They had set before him what was basically a political problem to which they hoped Jesus would and could give only a political answer. Instead the Lord reminded them that all human problems and issues could be answered only in relation to the just light of God.

Their question to the Lord, meant to disconcert him, had perplexed them too; it was a hot issue of the times. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

Jesus' unexpected response releases them from the snare they had set for him so that, hopefully, they might be open once more to the much more crucial question of his mysterious identity.

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