Here as in Heaven: Chosen

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

INTRODUCTION – Tonight, we have the second part of our homily series Here as in Heaven, which began last weekend. For those of you who were here this past Sunday, you’ll remember that the first part of the series focused on how all of us are invited to actively participate in the Banquet of Heaven, how the Father calls us to participate in that feast now by taking part in the banquet of the Eucharist. The readings from last weekend spoke to us about the feast that awaits us in Heaven. The challenge for us is to recognize Jesus within our midst and to put aside the excuses that we sometimes come up with that prevent us from responding to the Lord’s invitation to participate in that feast. This week, we take that idea of invitation to the next level and focus on the why we are invited. We are invited to participate in the banquet of Heaven because of who we are – because we have been chosen by God to be His beloved sons and daughters.

CYRUS – Over the last few weeks now, our first readings have been coming to us from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. We have been hearing about how the Lord has called the People of Israel to repentance and to deeper relationship with Him in order to overcome the circumstances in which they find themselves. Remember, they have been exiled away from the Promise Land for 70 years at this point. In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says that the salvation of the People of Israel would come from an unlikely source, that their freedom from exile would come from someone they least expected.

The Lord had chosen Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, to be the one who would usher in that freedom. And that is exactly what happened. After conquering Babylon in the western end of his empire, Cyrus restored Jerusalem and Judea to the people of Israel. He even financed the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. This goes to show us how God is the Lord of history and how He can work in ways that don’t always make sense to us initially. Despite not being of the Jewish faith, God was still able to use Cyrus to fulfill His will. He wasn’t what the people expected, and he certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was still chosen to be the one the Lord would use, which demonstrates God’s power and His care for His people.

THESSALONIANS – Then in our second reading, St. Paul writes to the Christian community in Thessalonica. This letter is most likely Paul’s first ever written. In it, he reminds the early Christians how they were chosen. “They have only been Christians for a short time, possibly even only months, yet he praises them for their works of faith and their labors of love and their endurance in hope.”[1]

Thessalonica was the second city in Europe that St. Paul had the chance to preach the Gospel. While his message was well-received and led to the conversion of many within the city, others despised the message and raised a violent mob against him. In order to keep him safe, the newly converted Christians had to sneak Paul out of the city at night. “After he left, the Christians there continued to suffer persecution and hardship in the face of the old guard who felt threatened by the new religion. This is [precisely] why ‘endurance’ was so important for them: they were constantly being tempted to go back to their old ways, the easier and more comfortable ways.” Despite all of that, the Christians in Thessalonica were able to persevere because they knew that God had chosen them. They believed in the promise of Christ that God would always walk alongside them, that the Father would always guide them and protect them “on their journey to the abundant and eternal life” that was to come.[2]

JESUS’ DILEMMA – Like Cyrus and like the Thessalonians, we, too, have been chosen. And we are reminded of this in an indirect way in today’s Gospel. In this particular Gospel, Jesus is between a rock and a hard place. The disciples of the Pharisees seemingly have Jesus trapped in a “gotcha moment.” They pose this question about paying taxes to Caesar. “If Jesus affirms the property tax, He will come off as a Roman sympathizer, discrediting himself in the eyes of numerous Jews for whom the Roman rule of Judea was an intolerable burden.”[3] On the other hand, if Jesus forbids paying the tax, then he would be accused of raising rebellion in the Roman province. (That likely would have resulted in His crucifixion.) In the end, Jesus was smart enough to see right through this ploy, and he answers the question by saying: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” But what does this statement mean?

TO CAESAR AND TO GOD – Jesus tells the Jewish people that paying taxes is not a compromise of one’s duties toward God. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that serving God exempts them from supporting the civil government. But this isn’t the only meaning that the statement provides for us. If the paying of taxes is required of Caesar, then give Caesar his due. Because the Roman coin bears the image of Caesar, give it back to him. But this begs the question: what then belongs to God? The human person – you and I – we who bear the image of the living God, we are what belongs to God, and that is why we have been chosen.

BELOVED SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD – Because we are made in God’s image and likeness and by right of our baptism into the faith, we have taken on the identity of being beloved sons and daughters of God. We are his adopted children. As such, we are called to live out of that identity. It should be the foundation of our decisions, our actions, our motivations. However, in order to live out of that identity, we have to fully embrace it to begin with and that requires that we be in relationship with God. That doesn’t happen overnight; it takes years to form a deep and personal relationship with God…it takes a lifetime.

DEEPER RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – The only way we can really do that is by getting to know him, believing who he is, and allowing him to draw us closer toward him in love. It means diving deeper into Scripture to come to a better understanding of who He is: reading about the things He did for others, the love He showed them, the miracles He performed, the things He taught His disciples, the freedom He brought to people’s lives. It means talking to Him on a regular basis, deliberately choosing to spend time with Him in prayer – just coming to Mass on Sundays is simply not enough. We have to talk to Him, share with Him what’s on our hearts, open up about our fears, our worries, our struggles, our joys, our triumphs. It means taking part in the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist and Confession…as much and as often as we need it.

WHEN WE DON’T LIVE AS SONS AND DAUGHTERS – Our identity comes from our relationship with God and all of these things will help deepen that relationship. But what happens when we don’t live out of that reality, if we choose not to embrace who we are as sons and daughters?

If we’re not living out of that reality, then the consequences can be pretty severe. When we don’t live out of that true identity, we begin to live out of our own desires and our own wants, thinking that we can do everything on our own. When that happens, we risk forgetting who we truly are, we risk forgetting that it was God who created us and shaped us. We risk falling into the trap of believing in lies that the Evil One tells us about ourselves.

How often we forget who we are and whose we are. If we are truly living our lives out of the identity that we are God’s beloved children, then we would live totally for Him. There would not be anything that holds us back from giving Him everything. The question we all have to ask ourselves is what are the things in our lives that prevent us from giving everything to God?

Material possessions, wealth, sins that we don’t want to stop doing, holding onto past mistakes, false ideas about who God is. Ultimately, those things are acting out of a false identity. We believe lies that we have to be someone that we’re not.

Living out of our true identities as sons and daughters of God is not always an easy thing to do. In my own life, I continue to struggle with that each and every day. Even though we know that God has chosen us to be His children, it’s hard for us to embrace that fact because we know the things that we have done in life, we know the things that have happened to us. And so often, we let those things define us. But, that doesn’t have to be the case.

CONCLUSION – God wants us to experience who we truly are, He wants to lead us out of the exile that is brought on by sin into freedom. He wants to remind us that He is walking alongside us in the midst of our struggles. He is reminding us that we are the most important people in His heart, that we are His sons and daughters and that He wants what is best for us. When we embrace that Truth, it changes everything. It changes what motivates us; it changes how we act, the decisions we make. When we encounter God’s love in that way, we desire nothing more than to go out and share with others how our lives have been changed.

So, this week as we reflect upon our identities as beloved sons and daughters of God, let’s reflect on the question: what are the things in my life that are preventing me from living out of that identity and how is the Lord inviting me to go deeper with Him? May we ask the Holy Spirit to fall fresh upon us and to guide us in that endeavor.

[1] Fr. Adam Nowak, Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

[2] Paragraph is paraphrased and includes quotes from “Christians Need to Keep Hope Healthy” on ePriest for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

[3] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, “The Images of Caesar and God,” in The Gospel of Matthew of the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 285.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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