29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
My wife and I have two daughters, Amy and Jenny. I remember asking the girls, when they were little, what they wanted to be when they grew up. Amy (the older of the two) surprised me with this answer: “On Mondays and Wednesdays I’m going to be a doctor; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m going to be a teacher; and on Friday’s I’m going to be an astronaut.” With a smile on my face, I asked her what she was going to be on the weekends. Without hesitation, she gleefully told me, “A rock star!”
Well, Amy is all grown up now, working in New York City for an advertising firm. She isn’t a doctor. She isn’t a teacher. And she isn’t an astronaut. But, in her parent’s eyes, she is always a “rock star!”
I share this story with you to demonstrate how we tend to want to separate our lives by organizing it into neat, little packages – living our lives in silos. But we are not made to live our lives in little packages or silos. We’re not made to live our lives like the fussy toddler at mealtime who can’t tolerate his peas touching his mashed potatoes. In our lives, and in our faith, we are made to live an integrated life, with all of its joys … and all of its messiness.
As Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, we are called to live what some would call a “purpose-driven life.” And that purpose is God.
The story in today’s Gospel (the story of Paying taxes to the Emperor) describes a plot to trap Jesus into a phony political debate about taxes paid to Cesar as ruler of the land, and to King Herod as a temple tax.
The challenge of this story is that, for the Jews, everything ultimately belongs to God. But Jesus escapes the trap and uses the occasion to point out what is really important in life: paying attention to the things of God. These “things of God” are the gifts, the talents, the strengths that each of us have to give back to God and his Church.
I think we have a good understanding of the saying “repaying Cesar what belongs to Cesar.” We are good, hard-working folks who pay their taxes. But what “work” do we do for God? How do we repay to God what belongs to God?
It is helpful to remember some of the points in today’s other readings. In our First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that there is only one God, there is no other (that’s the First Commandment – I am the LORD your God: you shall have no other Gods before me.) Like our Jewish ancestors, we believe that it is God who gives us everything. So that begs the question:
- What gifts has God given each of us?
- How are we giving them back to God and his people?
- Do we use these gifts to live a holy and integrated life?
It might be good to start by taking an inventory of your strengths (your God-given gifts). The StrengthsFinder training offered in our parish is a good place learn your strengths and how to use them in your personal, professional and spiritual life.
If you know our strengths, you might consider exercising them and sharing them with others by participating in parish ministries such as the ACTS Retreats, our upcoming Pastoral Assembly, or by becoming a Stephens Minister.
Our Second Reading reminds us of the faith, hope and love Jesus demonstrated by his life, death and resurrection. Saint Paul encourages the Thessalonians (and us as well) to:
- Take time to give thanks and praise to God
- Take time to pray and grow closer to God
- Endure the hardships and “messiness” of life with hope, knowing we are God’s beloved children who are never alone
The strength of the Holy Spirit gives us power and conviction to use and share our gifts with others.
This Mission Sunday, it would be good to reflect on how we use our gifts to bring Christ to the world.
Some people will say that life is all about balance. I say that life is not about balance, but about choices. And so I invite you to reflect on these questions this week:
- As one of God’s beloved, how do you give God a priority in your life?
- Do you open your heart and invite God into your integrated and sometimes messy life?
- How do you know and share your God-given gifts with others?
As we approach the altar today in Eucharist, let us pray for the faith and trust to accept our gifts of bread and wine made flesh and blood of Jesus, and prepare our hearts to give everything to the One who gives us everything we need!
Be at peace and know that you are loved!