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Scripture Study: Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

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By Marc Massery (Oct 20, 2017)
Find the readings for this weekend here

Sunday, October 22 — Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Is 45:1, 4-6
• Ps 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
• 1 Thes 1:1-5B
• Mt 22:15-21

The readings for this weekend remind us that even though we reside in the world, we must live in accord with the culture of our true home: Heaven.

In the first reading for Mass, Isaiah prophesies the reign of Cyrus over the Kingdom of Judah, more than 100 years before it takes place. Isaiah says that the Lord anointed Cyrus, and helped him "[subdue] nations before him" (Is 45:1). After the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah in the 6th century B.C., the Jews lived in exile for about 70 years. During this time, they could not offer sacrifice to God because the Babylonians had destroyed their temple. The exiled Jews, therefore, prayed relentlessly for God to lead them back to Jerusalem and restore the temple back to its original glory. God answered their prayers, not through a prophet, or even through a Jewish person, but through a Gentile leader: King Cyrus.

Isaiah says, "For the sake of ... Israel ... I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. ... It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that ... people may know that there is none besides me" (Is 45:4-6). In 539 B.C., Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and restored the exiled Jews to Jerusalem. He even helped them rebuild their temple (see Ezra 1:2-4). So merciful and powerful is God that he can accomplish His will through ungodly men, even if they do not intend it. Cyrus had no relationship with God, as mentioned twice in the scripture above. He therefore conquered Babylon for his own reasons. Still, God let circumstances fall in this Gentile leader's favor so that He could answer His people's prayers while revealing His own power in an even greater way.

No matter how godless our government may become, we must, like the Jews in exile, pray that God will still accomplish His will in our nation and in the world.

In the Gospel reading from the book of Matthew, Christ explains how we ought to view our government in relation to our faith. The Pharisees try to trap Christ into answering a divisive, political question about paying taxes. Publicly, they asked Christ, "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" (Mt 22:17). To the Pharisees, only God reigns as king. If Christ had answered that they ought to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees would have criticized him for offending God.

If Jesus had said that it was unlawful to pay taxes, the Pharisees would have reported him to the Roman authorities as an enemy of the state. Christ, however, sees their duplicity, saying:

"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 he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" (Mt 22:19-21).

We are dual citizens of Heaven and earth. We must strive to live holy, Christian lives, giving God what we owe Him. As part of that Christian life, we must pay what we owe our country, striving to act as model citizens, and following the rule of law as much as our conscience allows.

In His response to the Pharisees, Christ emphasizes the importance of weighing our conscience in making political decisions. If we discern, with the assistance of grace, that certain law requires us to do something that violates our Christian principles then we have a duty to dissent, and even to disobey it. On the other hand, if a certain law is in accord with Christian principles, and does not require us to violate those principles, then we have the clear duty to support and follow it.

Christ did not lay down detailed rules regarding how we ought to govern, and neither does the Church today. Instead, the Church lays down principles and asks us to discern, in our own hearts, how we ought to affect civil society. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lists the following four principles, based on Catholic social teaching, to help Catholics make sound judgements when voting. These four main principles include the following:

1. Promoting and defending the dignity of the human person
2. Supporting the family and subsidiarity in local, state and national institutions
3. Working for the common good where human rights are protected and basic responsibilities are met
4. Acting in solidarity with concern for all as our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and most vulnerable (Faithful Citizenship, Nos. 40-52).

As we approach election season, we must focus on forming our consciences in line with these principles. With the assistance of the Church and the grace of the Sacraments, we must examine our politicians to discover what they stand for.

Then, even if those elected do not act like ideal Christians, we can take comfort in knowing that God has historically used unholy figures, like King Cyrus, to accomplish His will. In the end, no matter who takes office, we must never stop praying for our elected officials. In doing so, we become united as a people, helping our own land prosper, while rendering unto God what is His.

Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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