FIRST READING (I have grasped the right hand of Cyrus to subdue the nations before him.)
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (45:1, 4-6)
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10)
R. Give the Lord glory and honor. (Ps 96:7b)
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all you lands. Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. (R)
For great is the Lord and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the Lord made the heavens. (R)
Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name! Bring gifts, and enter his courts. (R)
Worship the Lord, in holy attire; tremble before him, all the earth; say among the nations: The Lord is king, he governs the peoples with equity. (R)
SECOND READING (Calling to mind faith, love, and hope.)
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians (1:1-5b)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Phil 2:15d, 16a)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life. (R)
GOSPEL (Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew (22:15-21)
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that Jesus said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
“I have called you by your name… I am the Lord… there is no other!”
One aspect of the Gospel of St. Matthew (as well as the Gospel of St. John) depicts Jesus in conflict with those who are in leadership positions in both the religious and political communities. Examining these accounts, one thing we can note is that Jesus does not challenge legitimate authority. Rather he questions and challenges the way individuals exercise authority. In another passage from Matthew that we will read in an upcoming Sunday, Jesus counsels those around him to respect the scribes and Pharisees who “have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.”
Both the first reading and Gospel chosen for today allude to very difficult and complex political realities in their times. At both periods, in Isaiah and at the time of Jesus, the Israelites were living under the control of a foreign power. Those in my on-line biblical class will hopefully recall mention of the first reading in last week’s lecture on the post-exilic period. The Persian king Cyrus ruled at the time the Israelites were allowed to return from the Babylonian exile to Judah, while at the time of Jesus, Roman authorities ruled over both Israel and Judah.
From the most ancient times, the Israelites took great pride in being the “chosen people of God,” – a nation God had liberated from the rule of Egypt. Their very identity was synonymous with freedom – freedom from the slavery of Egypt, then freedom from the enemies found in Canaan, freedom from the Assyrians and later Babylonia, and finally freedom from the Romans. Often in their history they were captives and subject to the power of nonbelievers. But the Biblical writers do not speak against the captors. On the contrary, in our readings today, both Cyrus and Caesar play an important role in God’s plans for his people.
Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s “anointed one,” a title usually reserved for David and his royal lineage leading to the Messiah. But here, God grasps the right hand of the Persian king, a gesture that signifies the conferral of royal authority. In other words, Cyrus exercises legitimate authority over the people of God, despite the fact that he is a non-believer. God works through this king, and God’s plans unfold through him although Cyrus is unaware of it. It was Cyrus who issued the decree freeing the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, allowing them after some 70 years to return to their homeland, even while they would still be subject to his rule, the rule of the Persian Empire. So, the people of God left Babylon, their land of exile, and returned home.
The Gospel episode today is a bit more complex than might appear. The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees try to entrap Jesus with their question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” What they mean is, should we recognize the authority of this non-believer (Caesar)? If Jesus answers NO, he appears to be insubordinate or treasonous. If he answers YES, he denies Israel’s boast of being a people freed from all loyalties other than those that bind them to God.
But Jesus turns their entrapment against them by asking for a coin appropriate for paying the census tax. They expose their own complicity with the ruling powers by producing a Roman coin. Such coins did not comply with Israel’s prohibition against casting coins with graven image. The scribes and Pharisees are carrying under their tunic images of a Roman ruler who claimed to be a god. Without either condoning or condemning the character of Roman coins Jesus instructs them to fulfil lawful civic duties.
In these two accounts from Isaiah and the Gospel, we see that fidelity to one’s religious tradition – while also granting allegiance to secular powers – is not only possible but also is God’s will for us. These incidents show us that, as difficult and delicate as the balance between these two very different loyalties might be, they need not also be in conflict. Further, both readings encourage us not to be afraid of those different from us, the “outsider.” While we live in a time when political and religious differences pit us one against another, when persons of another persuasion or faith are considered outsiders or non-believers, we must never overlook the possibility of some good that God is working in and through them – a good that ultimately is for our benefit. Be careful not to become an obstacle for God’s grace even in times of adversity.
Today, as we also celebrate with the universal Church Mission Sunday, we recognize those men and women who freely left their own homelands to follow the Gospel mandate “Go out to all nations…” and who came to live here as outsiders, and yet whose lives were so blessed by those who welcomed them. The life and journey of any missionary is a special grace of discipleship. We are called to follow HIM on a journey will take us far from home, far from our family and friends, far from what makes us comfortable and safe. But we have the assurance of God’s promises in Scripture, and more especially the special gifts that each missionary receives – the spiritual support of prayers from so many; the financial support from people who share from their own resources to help us in our special ministry, to build churches, hospitals, schools, clinics, orphanages, homes for the elderly, and training facilities for local clergy and religious. Most especially we are blessed to seek the Lord where he is found – among communities in other nations and among other peoples, not only sharing our faith, but being graced with their own expression of faith.
It is in the joy of being a missionary that we come to understand in humble service and obedience to the Lord to be instruments of preaching the Good News to all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And we are strengthened by the promise, ““I have called you by your name… I am the Lord… there is no other!”
Celebrant: On this World Mission Sunday, we celebrate our unity in faith as sisters and brothers of a worldwide Church. With confidence, we place our needs before the Lord, knowing that He hears the prayers of all who love Him.
READER: For our Holy Father, and our bishops, that they continue to lead the Church with evangelical zeal, wisdom and joy, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For all priests, Religious and catechists who serve the Church as missionaries, especially those who serve in places still hostile to the Gospel, that they may be sustained in their faith and joyful in their witness, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For our parish dedicated to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, that through the intercession of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus hearts be filled with evangelical love, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: We pray that God will inspire young men and women of our own local church here in Hong Kong to serve the universal church, not only here but also as missionaries to other lands, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: [SMC only… For the repose of the soul of Eduardo Gomez for whom this Mass is offered, and] For all the living and deceased members of our community who we remember in our prayers today, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Loving God, we come before you united in faith and in love, knowing that you hear us as we present these petitions to you through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. (all) AMEN.