Sorry for the lateness, but we made a quick trip to the Cities after the Saturday night mass for a visit with family and are just back today!
My friends—today we are asked to look squarely at the notion of the insider-outsider mentality that seems unfortunately still quite prevalent in our society and Church. And with so much unrest this past year, primarily due to the agenda of the Trump administration; we seem to be growing in this mentality rather than lessening it.
But the hopeful and exciting news is that our loving God takes all these ways that we as creatures choose to exclude, separate and divide, to instead, unite, include and love. And this is the path that we, as our brother Jesus, modeled so well in his life, must follow. Our main purpose for being in the world is to realize that all is gift from our loving God, to enjoy it, and then, our response must always be to give back in love.
This reminds me of the Water Working Group that I am part of as a Cojourner with the Rochester Franciscans. Part of what I see this group doing each time we meet on conference call, beyond talking about ways that we all can protect the gift of water, that at least here in our area, we all enjoy, is to be most grateful for this wonderful gift. Whether spoken of or not, gratitude underlies all that we do. Along with the gratitude that we feel comes the responsibility to care not only for the water, but for the whole earth, from the skies above, to the soil beneath our feet, as the two are so interrelated.
And our God is so intent on getting this message of love and care across to our errant world, that God will work through those not even aware, to accomplish this goal. Such is the case in our first reading, from Isaiah today. Cyrus is a Persian King and ruler and the reading states that he has been anointed—that is, chosen by God to bring God’s love to the Israelite people in exile. He does this by proclaiming that these exiled ones may return to their homelands. Cyrus has no clue that his actions are part of God’s plan, or that he has been chosen; but he has! The wonder for each of us to behold is that in this action for one group of people, there is contact between the Persians and the Israelites and then, the opportunity exists for the saved or rescued to share with their liberators, and as a result, draw them also into the fold. And not only this, but God will have the learning going both ways, from those “saved” and those “not saved,” for if we believe that our God works through each of us, then indeed, those “not in the fold,” in our estimation, have something to show us of the face of God. God will use any and every opportunity to allow us to unite—to be one.
We have seen evidence of God’s hand throughout history, social and religious, to unite rather than divide—to raise consciousness. The Spirit of our brother Jesus is always renewing the face of the earth. Sometimes we are aware of her presence pushing us onward—sometimes not—but our faith calls us to be engaged, to do what we can.
God works through each of us, with the purpose of bringing others into our circle and they also are then able to bring us into theirs. This reminds me of the Winona Interfaith Council, a group of like—minded folks on issues of the day who come out of many different faith backgrounds and have joined together to allow justice to persist in our world.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is engaged in a battle of wits with the so-called leaders of his day. They are attempting to trap him once again because their purpose isn’t to rule with justice and love, but to control. We see this today in both religion and state. We know the story and the question in the Gospel today—is it lawful to pay the Roman tax?—these false leaders and teachers figured they had finally hatched a plan that would catch Jesus once and for all. If he answered “yes,” it is lawful, they could hold up Israel’s belief that each one is bound to God alone. If he says “no,” he will probably be encouraging political unrest because others will follow him in the action.
Now, it’s interesting to note that the national coin held the head of Caesar on it with the inscription that gave him political honor and divine status, a claim that the people of God totally rejected. In order to be sensitive to them, the Romans had a copper coin produced with no image on it. So, additionally, when Jesus asked these “leaders” to produce the coin that had Caesar’s head on it, it is interesting that they even had one, and it definitely showed their hypocrisy.
Jesus answers wonderfully and destroys their little game to entrap him—“Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give to God that which is God’s.” And what does God want of us? We might answer that by looking at the reading from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians today. In this reading, Paul is basically conveying his gratitude to these people for behaving in a way worthy of those chosen by God: they prove their faith by their actions—they labor in love and are constantly filled with hope in Jesus their Savior.
Again, I think of the Rochester Franciscans who presently have nine (9) working groups that are concerned about issues that affect us all—among these issues are: interfaith, Israel/Palestine, human trafficking, immigration, corporate responsibility, mountain-top removal, climate change and water, which I have already mentioned.
It is significant I think that the title of each of these groups includes the word, “working”—these groups are about doing something. I am personally so proud of this group of religious women and their Cojourner partners, for as Paul says, “They are proving their faith by their actions.” Paul concludes his thoughts by reminding them and us that the most significant act of their faith is love for others. Love, true love, will cause us to do what mere rules never would!
So, my friends, like Cyrus, like Jesus, like Paul, like the saints throughout history, past and present, each of us is chosen too by merit of our baptism, to live lives worthy of our call, to always include, never exclude, to let nothing get in our way of living out God’s all-encompassing desire that we be one—this puts many Church groups in jeopardy, it would seem, including our “Mother” Church.
What we do, called by the Spirit won’t always look perfect—in fact it will be messy at times. What matters though is that we begin, that we try to make a difference and don’t wait until what we may think is a better time—we have wonderful models in this in the Rochester Franciscans, in the Interfaith Council and others, if we are observant.
Several years back, a friend shared with me the comments of a person when she asked her what she thought of what we are trying to do in our little Catholic corner of the world here at All Are One. This person said she thought that this whole venture hadn’t been thought out too well, because what happens when Kathy Redig can no longer do this? She didn’t want to join something that wouldn’t be there for the long haul.
My simple answer was—the Spirit isn’t through with this venture yet! All of us together are about planting seeds that we may not see come to fruition. This venture is about now, what we can do now! If nothing was ever done until all the contingencies were checked and rechecked, making sure as possible that nothing would go wrong, nothing would ever get done!
So friends, just like Cyrus who wasn’t aware of how God was using him; we don’t know the full extent of what God wants to accomplish in us. So, we must simply keep on and trust that the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth—the final result is not our responsibility—that belongs to God—we simply must labor in love as the Thessalonians did so long ago.