29th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Is 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Gospel: Mt 22:15-21
I am sorry to say brothers and sisters that we are not too far from the beginning of yet another presidential campaign cycle, where we will soon be bombarded with endless commercials that for the most part will have some 20 second sound bite telling us what an oaf the President Obama is, or what a goof the Republican candidate is.
Every one of these commercials will be taken out of context from some speech that one of these two contenders will have made and be blown out of proportion in order to scare us into voting for the “other guy”.
Today’s Gospel is a soundbite trap
The reason why today I am the herald of this bad news, is because this is what the Pharisees are doing in today’s Gospel. They want to trap Jesus into making a 20 second sound bite that is either going to get him into trouble with the Romans, or get him in trouble with the Jews. They are so smart that they have an iron-clad mousetrap that is sure to get them the results that they want!
Jesus in the trap - Fiddler on the Roof meets Kung Fu Panda
I would like you to imagine this part of Matthews Gospel like a scene from a movie. If I was directing this movie, I would do this scene like Fiddler on the Roof meets Kung Fu Panda.
Ok, hold on, I know that half of you are thinking – “What is Fiddler on the Roof”, and the other half is thinking “What is Kung Fu Panda?” Fiddler on the Roof is the story of Tevye, a devout Jew who is always talking to God like this:
“Lord – this is my problem. On one hand I could do this… On the Other hand I could do that…
Kung Fu Panda is an animated film about a Panda who becomes this super-powerful kung fu warrior who protects his village from an evil foe. Whenever he fights, the scenes are portrayed in super-slow motion, showing the Panda doing amazing feats while his opponents stand awestruck.
In Deacon Paul’s imagination of this scene…
I would combine the two styles of these movies into this scene, because I would have Jesus caught in a slow motion fight scene with the Pharisees, they spring their trap, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” and then our film transitions to a slow-motion scene, where in Kung Fu Panda, the Panda would be able to hit his opponents 14 ½ times, while they move in slow motion, and he moves at super-panda speed. Except, instead of Jesus doing Kung Fu, he enters into prayer to his Father like Tevye
Father – I don’t know why I have to deal with these guys. If I answer that it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar they will brand me as a supporter of Rome and use that as proof that I don’t love you, and I won’t be able to preach.
On the Other Hand…
If I say that it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar then they will report me to the Romans as a revolutionary and I will most likely get killed.
Then, a flash of Divine inspiration, and Jesus gets this slight smile on his face, and the scene transitions back into normal speed for everyone.
What does it mean to give myself to God?
We give ourselves to God when we choose to be free. In a certain way, Jesus is saying it does not matter who is ruling us, the Persians, the Greeks, or the Romans, what is important is that we live our lives as lives of freedom, so that we can give ourselves freely back to God.
[[ASK FOR SOME HELP FROM THE CONGREGATION]]
Solve the National Debt
Last night I worked hard on my computer and solved the national debt crisis. Here is my solution – Deacon Dollars.
QUESTION: Who created this Money? Deacon Paul
QUESTION: Who do these dollars belong to?
QUESTION: How do you know?
When someone creates something, they are the owner of it, unless they are able to sell it to someone else.
Then it belongs to him, give it back because in truth, the act of giving me this money is truly worthless in the eyes of heaven. It is just a thing.
QUESTION: Who created you? [[GOD]]
In the Gospel today Jesus transforms the trap into an opportunity to teach a truth about the Kingdom of God and our own nature as well. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.
What does it mean to be free? - To do what I want?
If I think that Freedom is to do whatever I want then I can go home and print millions of Deacon Dollars. Then I am going to take a sack-load of Deacon Cash and buy my Groceries. This way I will have plenty of food (especially ice cream). They may not like my Deacon Dollars is their problem – it is a free country after all.
What is the Sin here?
What would I be doing if I printed up a bunch of Deacon Dollars and used them to buy my groceries at King Soopers? What crime would I be charged with? Stealing? Yes! Would my action be sinful? Yes!
Doing whatever I want is not freedom, it is license.
Jesus is teaching us that God has given us the gift of Freedom, and He invites us give that gift back to God in return. The Freedom that we have is to choose to do what is good over what is evil.
Choosing Good Frees me
There is a beauty in this gift that God gave us, when I use my freedom to choose good, I become more free, I have a greater ability to choose the good, and that allows even more freedom. This is what the lives of the Saints teach us. When they choose the good, avoiding sin, forgiving their enemies, loving even those who do not love in return, they discover that this is a gift from God, and it helps us to love the world more and more and more. The more we are able to love, the more we are free from sin to love.
Choosing Evil Enslaves me
If on the other hand I choose to do evil, then I become enslaved. The more I sin, the more addicted I become to my sin, and the less free I am, until my sin becomes a compulsion and I sin without even thinking about it. I become less and less a person.
There is only one true freedom, and that is to choose the good. To choose to do evil means that I choose slavery to sin.
How does evil enslave?
By addiction, by making a lesser good seem like the ultimate good. Then we are willing to sacrifice the greater good for the lesser good.
The Cookie Monster
A 2 year old wants a cookie. Mom says you need to eat your vegetables first. The two year old gets upset and throws a riot, trying to wear the mother down. The mother now has to make a choice between two things. 1. Choose the good and teach her child the value of good nutrition, or choose the good and give the kids a cookie so she can have 5 minutes of peace and quiet.
Which is the greater good? Why would we choose a lesser good?
Because we are upset, overwhelmed and our reason isn’t fully working.
The greater good is for the child to eat there vegetables, ultimately their body will be healthier from eating healthy food over junk food. More importantly, their soul is learning to listen to the voice of love (their mom), and the virtue of delayed gratification – earning what you work for.
Choosing the good over evil – telling the truth.
The two year old demanding cookies from his mother is much like us when we are addicted to sin. We struggle to choose the good because we fail to see the greater good. We choose lying over the truth because we think that the benefit of getting caught today is better than the benefit of eternal life. We are so worried about getting caught today that we fail to see the greater good at the end of our life.
To choose the good would be to tell the truth and accept the consequences in order to grow in humility and truthfulness.
Choosing the lesser of two goods, food vs fast.
We choose gluttony today, because we don’t clearly see the true cost of being overweight, getting diabetes, loosing limbs in the future. We choose the lesser good (a full tummy) over the greater good (a longer healthier life). More importantly, when we choose gluttony, our stomach becomes greater than our brothers and sisters who are hungry, who are starving, who we can really help.
To choose the good would be to eat a simpler meal and to give some of our excess to the poor.
Blessed John Paul II
Blessed John Paul II used to give himself to God each time he met someone in his day. His interior prayer was always to the Holy Spirit saying “Father, help me to open myself up to your will at this moment. Help me to give myself to you, so that you might use me as your humble instrument.” It was in that John Paul gave his heart back to God.
How are we going to give our hearts back to God this week?