29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A / World Mission Sunday-October 22, 2023

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A / World Mission Sunday-October 22, 2023

Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6; 1Thesalonians 1: 1-5b; Matthew 22: 15-21

 

Theme: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what Belongs to God”

Today, we celebrate the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the World Mission Sunday. Let us first try to understand the Scriptures readings of today, then next, I will analyze the message of Pope Francis for the World Mission Sunday.  

Our Gospel passage is a continuation of what we heard last Sunday. Jesus told the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14) in addition to the two other parables he told them previously (the parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21: 28-32) and that of the Tenants (Matthew 21: 33-43)). Through these three parables, the main message of Jesus was that the Jews rejected him, and the kingdom of heaven was being opened to the Gentiles, sinners, and all those (Jews and non-Jews) who were willing to repent. Upon hearing the teachings of all these parables, the Jews were furious. They planned to have the Roman authorities arrest and condemn Jesus. For this, they needed legal evidence. Matthew lines up a series of three questions in a row that the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus to entrap him in order either to obtain legal evidence to get him arrested and condemned or just to embarrass him publicly and have the Jewish population disapprove of him. The first question came from the Pharisees and Herodians. This is our Gospel story today.

Our Gospel passage says that the Pharisees and Herodians team up to entrap Jesus with his teachings. Note that these two groups were not getting along. They team up here just because Jesus is their common enemy. At the time of Jesus, Israel was under the occupation of the Romans. The Pharisees were against paying taxes to the Romans, but the Herodians (one group of the Israelites who supported Herod, the puppet king of the Romans) were working for the Romans, so they supported paying taxes. For this and many other reasons, the Pharisees and Herodians were at odds with one another. However, Jesus here was their common enemy as they found his teachings threatening their powers. So, they created an unholy alliance to try to find a way to condemn Jesus, their common enemy.

They asked Jesus a “Yes or No” question in public: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” This is a political dilemma question. Both groups (Pharisees and Herodians) presumed there was no right answer Jesus could give here.  On the one hand, if Jesus said “Yes, it is right to pay tax”, then the Pharisees could spread the news to the Jewish community accusing Jesus of supporting the Roman regime with all its human rights abuses. Consequently, Jesus would lose credibility among his fellow Jews. On the other hand, if he said “No, it is wrong to pay taxes”, then he would be in trouble with the Herodians who would immediately report to the Roman authority that Jesus was teaching people not to pay their taxes. That would be legal evidence for them to get Jesus arrested and condemned.

Knowing their malice, Jesus answered them like this: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” What can we learn from this answer? It is important to note that the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and other religious groups at that time benefited from the Pax Romana in which the Roman government permitted the Jewish government in Jerusalem to tax all expatriate Jews who were living in the Roman Empire for the support of the Temple. However, just a small amount of this tax served the support of the Temple as these religious groups were enriching themselves from this tax illegally. So, in the first part of Jesus’ answer “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, he tried to tell the Pharisees and Herodians that If they decided to continue participating in the Roman currency system and benefiting from it (in enriching themselves from the tax allowed by the same Roman government for the care of the Temple), then, they must also be willing to play by its rules. In a word, Jesus here pointed out their hypocrisy. Before they refused the tax imposed by the Roman government, they should have first abandoned the tax that they imposed on the expatriate Jews which made them illegally wealthy.  

In the second part of his answer, “Repay to God what belongs to God”, Jesus taught them and teaches each of us today a deep lesson. Note that Caesar’s image is stamped on coins but according to the book of Genesis, “God’s image and likeness” is stamped upon each human person. “Then God said: Let us make[a] human beings in our image, after our likeness (…) God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1: 26-27). This means that since the coin has Caesar’s image, it belongs to him, so, they should render to Caesar “this currency” as it belongs to him. Likewise, God’s image and likeness are stamped in each of us, meaning that everything that we have and who we are belongs to God. Therefore, we should render to God “ourselves” and “what we have” because we belong to him. This was what the Pharisees and Herodians in our Gospel failed to do. Their concerns were more about maintaining their social and political powers than embracing the kingdom of heaven that Jesus came to establish.

Through this Gospel passage, Our Mother Church warns us to not follow the example of the Pharisees and Herodians. Sometimes many Christians, for example, involve themselves in fighting for political causes, even good ones, but neglect their spiritual lives. Any good cause that we fight for will lose its sense if we neglect our relationship with God, which is the primary need of our lives. As we continue to fight for justice and peace for the well-being of people in our societies, let us keep in mind that it is in the same way that we need to fight to bring people closer to God for the well-being of our souls in the heavenly kingdom. Political needs and spiritual needs must not contradict each other. This is what we heard in our first reading. God used King Cyrus, a political leader, and blessed his people, the Israelites. Amen.

 

World Mission Sunday

Theme: Hearts on Fire, (Eyes Opened), and Feet on the Move (cf. Lk 24:13-35)

 

 Today we celebrate World Mission Sunday. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis suggests the whole Catholic Church to meditate on this theme: “Hearts on Fire, Feet on the Move”. He is inspired by the story of the Two Disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). After the death of Jesus, these two disciples’ hope placed in their Lord evaporated. Jesus is dead, everything is done, and now it is time to return home to Emmaus. On their way, they encounter the Resurrected Christ who interpreted the Sacred Scripture and broke the Bread with them. This means that the Risen Lord celebrated the Eucharist with them and then they received Him in Holy Communion. This encounter with Christ brought a tremendous change in their lives: from being confused and dismayed on the way toward Emmaus to becoming enthusiastic disciples on their way back to Jerusalem to announce the resurrection of the Lord in Jerusalem. Instead of continuing their trip to Emmaus, they made a U-turn and returned to Jerusalem. To do what there? To announce that Jesus had truly risen. Pope Francis emphasizes a few revealing images in this Gospel account through which we perceive the change in these two disciples: “Their hearts burned within them as they heard the Scriptures explained by Jesus, their eyes were opened as they recognized him and, ultimately, their feet set out on the way.” (Cf. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for World Mission Day 2023). Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, invites us to meditate on these three images (Heart on Fire, Eyes Opened, and Feet on the Move), which reflect the journey of all missionary disciples like you and me today. By meditating on these, Pope Francis believes that each one of us can renew our zeal for evangelization in today’s world.

Talking about the first image (Heart on Fire), the Holy Father Pope Francis expresses his closeness in Christ to all the men and women missionaries in the world, (priests, religious, and lay alike) especially to those enduring any kind of hardship. He says, “Dear friends, the Risen Lord is always with you. He sees your generosity and the sacrifices you are making for the mission of evangelization in distant lands. Not every day of our lives is serene and unclouded but let us never forget the words of the Lord Jesus to his friends before his Passion: “In the world, you will have tribulations, but be courageous: I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33). Our Holy Father invites us always to be willing to let ourselves be accompanied by the Risen Lord as he explains to us the meaning of the Scriptures as he did with the two disciples of Emmaus. Amid our suffering, we are called to let Jesus make our hearts burn within us and transform us so that we continue our mission to evangelize the world with the power and wisdom that come from his Spirit.

The second image is “Eyes Opened”. The eyes of the two disciples of Emmaus and the eyes of each of us today are opened and we recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread which is the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass. Pope Francis says, “Jesus in the Eucharist is the source and summit of the mission.” He then explains that Jesus is the one who breaks the bread, at the same time, he is the bread itself that is broken for us. So, all Baptized are missionary disciples. We are called to become like Jesus. Our mission is to become the ones who break the bread and at the same time to be the bread that is broken for the world. For Pope Francis, on the one hand, breaking our material bread with the hungry in the name of Christ is already one of the missions of Christianity. On the other hand, the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, which is Christ himself, is a work of mission par excellence because the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.

The third image is “Our Feet on the Move”. After their eyes were opened and they recognized the Risen Lord “in the breaking of the bread”, the two disciples of Emmaus “set out without delay and returned to Jerusalem to announce to others that Jesus had truly risen (cf. Luke 24: 33). When we meet Jesus in the Word of God proclaimed at Mass and the Eucharist that we share in the Holy Communion, the joy of the Gospel fills our hearts and our whole lives. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says, “With Jesus Christ, Joy is always born and reborn.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). One cannot encounter the risen Jesus without being set on fire with enthusiasm to tell everyone about him. Therefore, Pope Francis affirms that the primary and principal resource of the mission “are those persons who have come to know the risen Christ in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, who carry his fire in their heart and his light in their gaze. They can bear witness to the life that never dies, even in the most difficult of situations and in the darkest of moments.”

So, Pope Francis invites all of us, in this world Mission Sunday, to “set out once more, illumined by our encounter with the Risen Lord and prompted by his Spirit. Let us set out again with burning hearts, with our eyes open and our feet in motion. Let us set out to make other hearts burn with the Word of God, to open the eyes of others to Jesus in the Eucharist, and to invite everyone to walk together on the path of peace and salvation that God, in Christ, has bestowed upon all humanity.

On this World Mission Sunday, the Church reminds us that we all are missionaries and we all can contribute financially to support the mission around the world. That is why, all parishes worldwide collect funds on this Sunday and send them to the Pontifical Mission Society (PMS).

The “Pontifical Mission Societies” (PMS) are four mission offices: The Society of Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of Saint Peter Apostle Missionary, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. They have a special responsibility in the Universal Church. National offices exist in more than 120 countries around the world including the United States. I used to work in the National Office of PMS in Congo-Kinshasa. Central administrative offices are located in Rome, Italy, under the direction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. 

I am myself a religious priest. I belong to a religious congregation called “Society of the Divine Word” founded on September 8, 1875, by Saint Arnold Jansen, a German priest. As of 2020, we have around 6,023 members composed of priests and religious brothers working in more than 70 countries. We also have two religious congregations for the nuns: The Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (founded on December 8, 1889) and the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit for Perpetual Adoration (founded on December 8, 1896) known as “Pink Sisters”. As of 2020, there are around 3,000 sisters working in more than 50 countries. Our work is based on four dimensions: promotion of the Bible, Communication, Mission animation (We open new communities and parishes, especially the places where the mission is not well established due to poverty or other difficulties), and Justice and Peace. 

All of your financial support for World Mission Sunday will go to Rome and will be used to support the mission around the world. Together, through our prayers and financial support, we bring the Lord’s mercy and concrete help to the most vulnerable communities in the Pope’s missions. Let us be generous in supporting the mission of the Church around the world. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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