29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45: 1, 4 – 6; Ps 96; 1 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 5b; Mathew 22: 15 – 21
He is called “the anointed” and his right hand is grasped by God. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a man, Cyrus, “I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not!” Here is the great mystery of divine election; God chose a king of Persia, a pagan, to liberate His enslaved people from Babylon. By God’s choice of this man, a non-believer, Cyrus became an agent of divine mercy – without knowing it.
Then there are Paul, Silvanus and Timothy who are also anointed by the Holy Spirit and called by name to be His voice, His presence of mercy and peace to people like the Thessalonians. Unlike Cyrus, they knew that God had chosen them to be His agents; we heard their strong witness in the second reading: “For our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”
Then there is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, the Anointed One (with a capital “A”), the perfect agent of the Father. In His own words He says, “I can only say what I hear the Father saying…I can only do what I see the Father doing.” Even though the Pharisees are looking for a way to entrap Him and try to deceive Him by their compliments still, what they say to Him is most valid: “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 a person’s status.” Jesus knew their hearts, He felt their malice but He did not hesitate to answer them.
In reflecting on the passage about King Cyrus, I became aware of something that all three readings have in common. Together, they reveal how God intervenes in our lives because no one – whether one believes in God or not – can live in God’s world, the only world there is, and not be touched by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the touch is recognized and sometimes, not but God is relentless in His love – as someone has written “His love is super extravagant, super generous” – actually beyond description.
God can and does touch us through others – like a Cyrus – through a stranger, a chance meeting, through someone who annoys us or is even openly rude and downright hostile. Anyone can be an agent of God. The Lord can use any person, any situation to call forth from us faith, hope, charity – by His grace inviting us to go beyond our negative feelings to His presence within and respond from there.
God can and does touch us through our fellow Christians as Paul, Silvanus and Timothy were His agents to the early Christians. From their own belief – from their own experience of God – their awareness of having been chosen, they made the Lord’s merciful, faithful love apparent, real, unforgettable. Recently, in the Diocese of Oklahoma City, on September 23, the first US born priest, Father Stanley Francis Rother was beatified. Blessed Stanley, a diocesan priest, served in Guatemala for 13 years – a period of terror, murder, abduction – and knowing that his name was #1 on a death list said. “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock!” And he didn’t; he was murdered. What might God be saying to each of us through this man of God, His agent? Might the Lord in His touch be asking us to consider our own generosity – generosity not only in action but also in thought, in word.
Of course, the Father has made His touch audible to us in the words of the Lord Jesus, the perfect, the divine agent – the Father has made His touch tangible, even consumable in the Most Holy Eucharist and we gather here for that very reason, do we not? Our presence here is the result of the Lord’s invitation and our response, of course, is to live in faithful gratitude by becoming what we receive.
In Psalm 95 – “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts!” – we might be surprised, taken off guard by the agent of His voice so listen, be watchful, desire to hear – isn’t this what it means to be a man, a woman belonging to God?
Jesus said, “…repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!” It is not something that belongs to God – it is you, me, all believers. One of the ways to show that belonging is by generosity – today’s collection for the Missions is an invitation to acknowledge that privilege of our belonging to God.